France denies Al-Qaeda contact before hostage killing

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France insisted Tuesday it had not made contact with Islamic militants who killed a French hostage last month, commenting after the same group reportedly received a ransom for freeing two Spaniards.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the network's north African branch, freed the Spaniards on Sunday, a month after the same outfit claimed it had killed a French hostage, Michel Germaneau.

Germaneau's killing was especially sensitive because AQIM said it had been negotiating with France and executed him in revenge for the killing of seven of its members by French and Mauritanian forces in a failed rescue bid.

As the Spanish case raised the issue of how governments deal with Al-Qaeda hostage-takers, France on Tuesday reiterated its rejection of the claim that it had been in contact with the group.

"While the life of a French person is at stake, France is always ready to negotiate," presidential spokesman Claude Gueant told AFP.

But "we never got the chance to make contact with Al-Qaeda for the release of Michel Germaneau," he said, adding that the Spaniards' captors were not the same ones who kidnapped Germaneau, 78.

AQIM freed Spanish aid workers Albert Vilalta, 35, and Roque Pascual, 50, on Sunday after holding them for nine months in Mali.

Mediators involved in the pair's release told AFP Tuesday that AQIM received around eight million euros (10 million dollars) for the hostages, following Spanish media reports of a ransom.

AQIM said in a statement that the release was a "lesson for the French secret service," referring to the case of Germaneau.

"We do not comment on declarations made by terrorists," said French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero, expressing "relief" at the freeing of the Spaniards.

"We share the joy of their families and the Spanish authorities," Valero said.

© 2010 AFP

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