Niger locates Frenchmen's kidnappers near Mali: official
Niger forces have located and exchanged fire with people who kidnapped two Frenchmen from a Niamey restaurant but held off for fear of wounding the hostages, a government spokesman said Saturday.
"Around 3:00 am (0200 GMT) one of the security and defence force teams intercepted the kidnappers a few kilometres (miles) north of Ouallam and there were exchanges of fire," Laouali Dan Dah told journalists in Niamey.
Ouallam is around 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the Mali border.
"The security and defence forces did not want to open fire in a major way for fear of wounding the hostages and putting their lives in danger, which is why the kidnappers slipped through the net.
"What's certain is that we know their position and the security and defence forces are positioned where the kidnappers are and they are still in Niger. We are very hopeful that this crisis will end well."
The two Frenchmen were snatched at gunpoint from a restaurant in Niamey's centre late Friday and driven off into the desert in an all-terrain vehicle.
The abduction had echoes of a raid in September on the mining town of Arlit during which seven foreigners, including five French, were kidnapped. They are now believed to be held in Mali by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Dan Dah said that the kidnappers reportedly spoke Arabic, French and Hawza, but "we cannot say exactly what their identity is" as all but one of their faces were concealed by turbans.
"It's too soon to establish similarities with the modus operandi of this latest kidnapping and that in Arlit (in September).
"We are dealing with villainous acts that must be treated with the greatest care and dexterity in order to avoid putting the hostages' lives in danger."
© 2011 AFP