France says Al-Qaeda behind kidnap, hostages alive
France has authenticated an Al-Qaeda claim to have kidnapped five of its nationals in Niger and has good reason to believe the hostages are still alive, the foreign ministry said Wednesday.
Gunmen seized the French, a Togolese and a Madagascan on Thursday last week in a raid on French firms working in northern Niger's uranium fields, and are now thought to have taken the captives to a remote corner of Mali.
"We have not received proof of life, but we have good reasons to believe the hostages are alive," French foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said after Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility.
"We are in a position to confirm the authenticity of the claim," Nadal said, referring to a tape broadcast on the Arab satellite network Al-Jazeera, in which an apparent AQIM militant said ransom demands would follow.
Nadal said that France had received no other communication, and was not yet aware of any precise demands from the hostage-takers.
Earlier, a government spokesman had said that President Nicolas Sarkozy had ordered that "all the services of the state are mobilised to obtain the freedom of the hostages."
In July, French commandos backed by Mauritanian forces stormed a suspected AQIM base in northern Mali, killing seven militants but failing to find a previous French hostage kidnapped in Niger and now thought to be dead.
A French military reconnaissance team backed by spotter planes has deployed to west Africa to help in the search for the hostages.
© 2010 AFP