Qaeda warns France not to attempt rescue of hostages: SITE
Al-Qaeda has warned Paris not to attempt to rescue five French nationals kidnapped by the jihadists in Niger, SITE monitoring group said Thursday, as France mobilised its forces to find them.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb posted a statement on jihadist forums in which it said the kidnappings came in the "context of retaliation" promised by AQIM leader Abu Musab Abdul Wadud to France, the US-based group said.
SITE said the statement carried a warning to France that they should not attempt another rescue mission "like they had done for Michel Germaneau."
AQIM militants have made increasing threats against France and its citizens since a July deadly Sahara raid in a bid to rescue French hostage Michel Germaneau in which seven of its members were killed.
The group said it had executed the 78-year-old as a reprisal for the raid, vowing further revenge against France.
Gunmen seized the five French nationals along with a Togolese and a Madagascan on September 16 in a raid on French firms working in northern Niger's uranium fields. France says it believes they are still alive.
They are now thought to have taken the captives to a remote corner of Mali.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Wednesday that France will mobilise all its organs of state to ensure the release of hostages.
"As the president just said, all the services of the state are mobilised to obtain the freedom of the hostages," French government spokesman Luc Chatel told reporters after Sarkozy chaired a weekly cabinet meeting.
Many of the states of North and West Africa, including Niger, Algeria, Mali and Mauritania, are former French colonies, and France has military trainers working along some of the local troops.
SITE quoted AQIM as saying in the statement that Western companies "that steal our wealth and take advantage of our people should know that they are legitimate targets for the mujahedeen and they should leave promptly, because our land is not a field for plunder and our wealth is not something to be taken advantage of."
In Paris, AQIM's claim to have abducted the seven was authenticated, but no demands had been received from the hostage-takers.
"We have not received proof of life, but we have good reasons to believe the hostages are alive," French foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said on Wednesday after AQIM claimed responsibility.
In Bamako, Mali's 50th independence day celebrations Wednesday were overshadowed by the hostage crisis, with high-level talks between regional heads of state expected to focus on the security problems posed by the north African cell of Osama bin Laden's network.
French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux, due to meet with his Malian counterpart President Amadou Toumani Toure in Bamako, said that military interventions had been ruled out "at this stage".
Mali has been denounced in the past by Algeria and Mauritania as a weak link in the fight against AQIM.
In Washington, US officials said France had asked for its assistance in hunting down the militants, amid reports that the Pentagon operates a listening post in southern Algeria to monitor regional radio and telephone traffic.
France did not confirm US assets were involved in the hunt, but said it was working "with all the governments involved in fighting terrorism in the Sahel."
The small AQIM army has spun a tight network across the Sahel, raking in millions from kidnappings and drug trafficking, killing several hostages and carrying out attacks across the six countries it spans.
© 2010 AFP