Frenchmen abducted in Niger taken toward Mali: source
Niger security forces were combing the desert between Niamey and Mali on Saturday in a bid to find two Frenchmen abducted by gunmen from a restaurant in the Niger capital, a security source said.
"The search is mainly being carried out towards Mali," the source told AFP, requesting anonymity.
"Defence and security forces have been searching since yesterday and there are roadblocks on all the main routes towards the Malian border."
Mali is around 200 kilometres (125 miles) from Niamey, where gunmen snatched the two Frenchmen from a restaurant in front of shocked diners and staff late Friday.
Two gunmen wearing turbans burst into the city centre Toulousain restaurant and forced the men to follow them, staff and diners told AFP.
They were taken to a four-by-four vehicle with Benin plates in which other armed men were waiting and then driven off at speed.
"Since we heard the news yesterday, all means have been mobilised and people deployed to undertake the search. We are mobilised and a crisis cell headed by the interior minister has been set up," Interior Minister Osman Cisse told AFP.
He declined to confirm the two men's nationality, although staff at the restaurant said they were both French.
Five French hostages seized in Niger in September along with a Togolese and a Madagascan are believed to be held by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in Mali.
Police in Niamey said that one of the men abducted Friday had arrived that same day to attend a wedding.
A French foreign ministry spokesman in Paris told AFP late Friday: "We are aware of this information, we are fully mobilised both in Paris and in Niamey to check it."
© 2011 AFP