French Niger hostages killed in 'cold blood': PM

10th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

Suspected Al-Qaeda kidnappers killed two French hostages in cold blood when French troops tried to rescue them in the deserts of west Africa, France's prime minister said Monday.

"The hostage-takers, seeing they were pursued, killed the hostages in cold blood, according to the first elements in my possession," Francois Fillon said, adding he was "almost certain" the Islamist movement Al-Qaeda was to blame.

He said the final assault to try to rescue them took place on Malian territory and had involved only French forces who were acting after Malian officials had given them permission to intervene.

Antoine de Leocour and Vincent Delory, both aged 25, died on Saturday, one day after they were snatched by gunmen from a restaurant in Niamey, the capital of Niger.

"The investigation will of course go deeper, and all the results will be given to the families of the victims. Terrorism has shattered their lives, but it will not reduce our determination to battle this scourge," he said.

France had not previously formally blamed the kidnap on Al-Qaeda, but officials strongly suspect the group's north African affiliate -- Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) -- was behind the attack.

A Malian security source said Monday that "AQIM documents" had been found at the scene of the attack, as well as an itinerary and two satellite phones.

AQIM is already holding five French hostages taken last year in Niger, and was blamed for the death of a sixth. France has deployed troops to the region and is working with local forces to track the kidnappers.

Niger troops and French special forces commandos backed by reconnaissance planes set off in pursuit of the gunmen, and fighting erupted Saturday as they attempted to rescue the hostages.

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was in Washington for talks with his US counterpart Barack Obama on Monday, plans to visit the families of the deceased men near the northern city of Lille next week, his office said.

© 2011 AFP

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