France told to deal directly with bin Laden over hostages
France said Friday it was working to authenticate a videotape warning Paris to deal directly with Osama bin Laden concerning five French hostages held by an Al-Qaeda offshoot in Africa.
Abdelmalek Droukdel, the head of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), said in the videotape message that bin Laden alone could negotiate the release of the hostages held by AQIM since September.
Droukdel, alias Abou Moussaab Abdelouadoud added in his message broadcast on Al-Jazeera Arabic Television on Thursday that "any form of negotiations on this issue in the future will be done with no one other than our Sheikh Osama bin Laden... and according to his terms".
French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said that the videotape "is being authenticated now."
He told AFP that France was "fully mobilised" in an effort to secure the release of the five French hostages who were seized in Niger in September along with a Togolese and a Madagascan and are believed to be in captivity in neighbouring Mali.
According to a translation of the videotape by US monitoring group SITE Intelligence, AQIM chief Droukdel also said: "(If you) want safety for your citizens who are held captive by us, then you have to hasten and take your soldiers out of Afghanistan according to a specific timetable that you announce officially."
Bin Laden, in a recording aired by Al-Jazeera in late October, also said that France's security would be compromised if it does not pull its 3,750 soldiers out of Afghanistan.
France said for the first time Wednesday that it was in touch with the AQIM kidnappers.
"Of course there are all kinds of contact" with the hostage-takers, new Defence Minister Alain Juppe told Europe 1 radio, without giving more details.
"All the (French) authorities, the defence ministry, the foreign ministry, everyone is being extremely vigilant to make the necessary contact," he said.
Asked if the hostages were believed to be safe, Juppe added: "Currently there is every reason to believe they are."
© 2010 AFP