Bin Laden links hostages' fate to Afghan pullout
Osama bin Laden said the release of French hostages depends on a pullout of France's soldiers in Afghanistan and warned Paris of a "high price" for its policies, in a tape broadcast on Friday.
"We repeat the same message to you: The release of your prisoners in the hands of our brothers is linked to the withdrawal of your soldiers from our country," said the speaker on the audiotape broadcast on Al-Jazeera television.
The satellite channel said bin Laden was referring to two French journalists held in Afghanistan, although he did not specify if it also covered France's hostages seized in Africa.
The foreign ministry in Paris reacted swiftly, stressing it would not bow to such threats.
"We are determined to pursue our action in favour of the Afghan people with our allies" in the NATO-led force fighting their ousted Taliban rulers, ministry spokesman Bernard Valero told reporters in Paris.
Separately, Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said: "France stands beside her allies at the request of the UN to help the Afghan people.
"I think about our two hostages in Afghanistan and we are working every day to have them freed," she said during a visit to Israel.
Cameraman Stephane Taponier and reporter Herve Ghesquiere, who work for France 3 public television, were seized along with three Afghan colleagues in December 2009 in the mountainous and unstable Kapisa province, east of Kabul.
The Al-Qaeda chief, addressing the French people, said: "The refusal of your president to withdraw from Afghanistan is the result of his obedience of America, and this refusal is a green light to kill your prisoners ...
"But we will not do this at a timing that suits him," he said, adding the warning that French President Nicolas Sarkozy's stand would "cost him and you a high price on different fronts, inside and outside France."
Bin Laden, in the tape whose authenticity was not immediately possible to determine, warned in a mocking tone that Paris "with its debt and budget deficit does not need new fronts."
France 3 revealed in December that a new video which the kidnappers made a month earlier of the kidnapped journalists had been released to French authorities, although not made public.
Taponier's parents were shown the film at the foreign ministry and said afterwards that the two hostages appealed in the video to their government for help and looked thin but in good shape.
The French government has said securing the release of the journalists was an "absolute priority."
The audiotape broadcast on Friday was the second bin Laden threat against France in less than three months.
On October 27, he warned in a video that France's security depended on an Afghanistan pullout and end of its "injustices" against Muslims.
The Saudi-born Islamist militant in that tape also pointed to the kidnappings of French nationals in Niger, saying they served as a warning to France.
Earlier this month, two Frenchmen abducted from a restaurant in the Niger capital Niamey were found dead in Mali after a failed attempt by French special forces to rescue them from an Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb convoy.
And in a video broadcast in April 2010, the Taliban threatened to kill the two French journalists unless their own prisoners were released.
France has around 3,750 soldiers deployed in Afghanistan.
At the end of October, then French defence minister Herve Morin raised the possibility of the start of a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2011 while stressing it would not be linked to Al-Qaeda's threats.
AQIM is holding hostage in Mali five people including three French citizens kidnapped in Niger on September 16 last year. Most of the five were employees at French nuclear group Areva and the Satom company.
Another Frenchman, 78-year-old retired engineer Michel Germaneau, was killed in Mali by Al-Qaeda militants in July last year, three months after he was abducted in Niger.
© 2011 AFP