French hostages being held in Mali: Niger government
Five French nationals and two Africans abducted in Niger by suspected Al-Qaeda-linked militants last week are being held in Mali, the Nigerien government confirmed Monday.
"The kidnappers and the hostages are in Malian territory. We are working with neighbouring countries," government spokesman Laouali Dan Dah told reporters after a meeting of a crisis committee dealing with the case.
Various sources in the region have already said the hostages are being held in northeastern Mali, in a mountainous area of the desert close to Algeria.
They were kidnapped on Thursday last week from their homes in Arlit in northern Niger by gunmen that France suspects are linked to the North African wing of Al-Qaeda -- Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
The Niger spokesman said the involvement of French military forces in trying to find the group was welcome extra help, but he would not give details of the French aid.
"It is French citizens who are concerned. The French forces are coming as extra help to Nigerien forces," he said.
"We consider (the abductions) a blow and all those who can give us more help to sort out the situation are welcome," he said.
France has dispatched dozens of specialised military personnel to Niger to work on the case, diplomatic and military sources said Monday.
It set up an 80-strong technical group in the capital Niamey that is using a long-range reconnaissance plane to scour the desert and a specially modified Mirage jet with detection equipment to trace the group.
© 2010 AFP