Al-Qaeda says it has killed French Sahara hostage: report
An Al-Qaeda-linked gang in the Sahara desert said Sunday that it had killed a 78-year-old French hostage in revenge for the killing of six comrades in a failed Mauritanian-French rescue raid.
French authorities said they were trying to verify the claim, made by the head of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in an audio statement broadcast by Al-Jazeera.
"We announce that we executed the French hostage Michel Germaneau on Saturday July 24, 2010, to avenge the killing of our six brothers in the cowardly French raid," on Thursday, AQIM chief Abu Musab Abdul Wadud said.
"(French President Nicolas) Sarkozy failed to free his compatriot in this operation but he has, without any doubt, opened for his people and for his country one of the gates of hell," Wadud warned.
"In a rapid and just response to the ignoble actions of France, we announce that we have executed the French hostage."
In Paris, the French presidency said it had received "no confirmation" of the killing of Germaneau, who was kidnapped in Niger on April 19, adding that it was trying to verify the claim.
Sarkozy called a crisis meeting of his defence and security advisers for Monday.
Earlier on Sunday, Mali security sources expressed growing fears for the fate of the French hostage after the failed raid.
AQIM on July 11 gave France a 15-day deadline to help secure the release of its members in the region, warning that Germaneau would be executed if Paris failed to comply.
The looming deadline, due to expire on Monday, saw between 20 and 30 French soldiers involved in a raid Thursday on a remote camp in the Malian desert by Mauritanian forces.
Six members of AQIM, an offshoot of Osama bin Laden's network, were killed in the operation, officials have said.
Documents, bomb-making equipment, guns and ammunition were found during Thursday's pre-dawn assault but soldiers found no evidence that Germaneau had been held there.
Further details of efforts to free Germaneau -- who was kidnapped in April in Niger -- remained unclear.
Malian authorities blamed his murder on AQIM cell leader Abou Zeid, also known as Abib Hammadou, a 43-year-old Algerian who is listed on United Nations documents as a known Al-Qaeda member.
Germaneau was working with the Enmilal aid agency to improve health services and schools at the time of his kidnap.
France has said it had received no direct demands from Germaneau's kidnappers but was taking their reported threat to kill him seriously.
AQIM is also holding two Spaniards in the region after kidnapping them more than seven months ago: Albert Vilalta, 35, and 50-year-old Roque Pascual.
France had "consulted" Spain over Thursday's operation, said a French defence ministry source.
The raid had prompted "anxiety" in Madrid over how it might affect the Spanish hostages, according to Spanish media reports.
AQIM has also been held responsible for the murder of British hostage Edwin Dyer, 60, who was kidnapped by Islamic extremists in the Sahel region bordering the Sahara desert in January 2009.
© 2010 AFP