Al-Qaeda's offshoot in the Maghreb has claimed responsibility for the December 19th kidnapping of two Italians in eastern Mauritania (see picture). Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) released an audiotape stating that the group has seized the couple in retaliation against what they called "crimes of the Italian government in Afghanistan and Iraq." AQIM has been active in recent months claiming several kidnappings mostly against foreign tourists and aid workers in the Sahel region. In addition to Eastern Mauritania, northern Mali has also been theater to AQIM's operations. In November, AQIM claimed the kidnapping of a French national, and Malian authorities believe that three Spanish aid workers that went missing in Mauritania are held in Mali by AQIM.