Mali Islamist group claims kidnapping of French citizen
The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), one of the Islamist groups occupying northern Mali, on Thursday claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of a French citizen two days ago.
"We claim responsibility for the kidnapping of the Frenchman in south-western Mali near the Mauritanian border," said MUJAO spokesman Abu Walid Sahraoui. They would post a video of the hostage shortly, he added.
The group, which describes itself as an offshoot of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), has not provided details on its demands in exchange for the hostage.
On Wednesday night the group had said 61-year old Gilberto Rodriguez Leal, who was born in Portuguese but is a French citizen, was being held by jihadists, without specifying which armed group had him in their possession.
"With God's blessing, the mujahedin are holding a Frenchman, whose country wants to lead armies against the Muslim people," Abdoul Hicham, a top MUJAO leader, told AFP.
Mauritania's national news agency ANI reported that Leal was kidnapped on Tuesday night in the town of Diema in the western Kayes region bordering Mauritania and Senegal.
However according to French sources, he was kidnapped in Nioro, further north.
Regional security sources told AFP that the hunt for Leal and his kidnappers was underway on Thursday.
"The search is continuing. Mali is in contact with its neighbours, especially Mauritania where the kidnappers could take the hostage before returning him to northern Mali," a security official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The kidnapping brings to 13 the number of hostages held by hardline Islamists in the region which has suffered a devastating collapse since a coup in Bamako in March. Seven of these are French.
Islamist groups with links to Al-Qaeda conquered the entire north of Mali, an area the size of France or Texas, in the wake of the coup, and have enforced a brutal form of sharia law.
© 2012 AFP