Thursday, September 25, 2014

Islamic Militants Execute Mountaineer in Algeria

There is sad news to report out of Algeria today where Islamic militants have killed a mountaineer in retaliation for U.S.-led attacks against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. 55-year old Hervé Gourdel has traveled to the country just a few days before to begin a 10-day long hiking excursion to the Atlas Mountains in preparation for a future expedition to climb there. Gourdel reportedly had just arrived in Algeria on Saturday, and was captured by the militant group while trekking in the mountains on Sunday. In an apparent attempt to send a message to the French government to withdraw from the attacks on ISIS, the Algerian militants wasted no time in murdering their captive.

The group, which is known locally as the Caliphate Soldiers, reportedly has ties to the Islamic State. Yesterday they released a gruesome video of the murder, which shows masked men beheading Gourdel. The video was released a mere 30 minutes after U.S. President Obama spoke before the United Nations General Assembly calling on the nations of the world to work together to stop the spread of ISIS throughout the Middle East.

Algeria was once a French colony, and the influence of that era, and it remains a popular destination for French tourists. The attack has shocked many, which had seen the country as a safe place to visit, despite some lingering resentment amongst militants. Initially, the group tried to use Gourdel as a pawn to force the French government to withdraw from the attacks on ISIS, but when that ploy had no impact, the Caliphate Soldiers went ahead with the execution, calling it "a message in blood for the French government."

An experienced mountain guide, Gourdel had spent a great deal of time in the Atlas Mountains, particularly on the Moroccan side of the range. He had reportedly traveled to Algeria to scout out some possible climbing destinations for future expeditions.

If anything, this story is an indicator of how far the ISIS influence has spread. Algeria is not all that close to Syria and Iraq, and yet the Islamic State has garnered allies there. The attack on Gourdel is also a reminder of the brutal attack on mountaineers in Nanga Parbat, during which a different group of Islamic militants murdered 10 foreign climbers. It is a shame that peaceful visitors from another country get caught in the middle of these conflicts, but it is a reality that we must consider when traveling to certain parts of the world.

My condolences to Hervé's friends and family in this trying time.

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