Al-Qaeda hostages 'alive' in Mali: source
Five French hostages kidnapped with a Togolese and a Madagascan by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb 10 days ago "are alive" in Mali, a Malian source close to the matter said Sunday.
"The seven hostages kidnapped in Niger ... are alive. We have given the information to France," the source told AFP.
He said the hostages were currently being held in the hilly desert zone of Timetrine, in the far north of Mali, bordering Algeria.
They were kidnapped by the local branch of Osama bin Laden's global jihadist network on September 16 from their homes in Arlit, a uranium mining town in the north of Niger.
Shortly after the kidnapping France dispatched an 80-strong military intelligence unit and spotter planes to the Sahara to try to track the gang down, mapping a desert area six times the size of France.
However officials have played down the likelihood of a military rescue mission.
Another source close to the case said: "we are working with France to find a solution, but we have clearly conveyed to our interlocuters that we do not want French, American, or any western troops on our soil."
Asked whether Bamako was an official mediator in the case, a Malian official said Paris had asked for assistance from several countries, "especially Mali".
"We are waiting for proof that the hostages are alive. That could be a photo, a video or both," the official said, requesting anonymity.
Army chiefs from Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger were holding a security meeting on Sunday on their strategy to deal with the Al-Qaeda militants in their region.
© 2010 AFP