Bin Laden says Niger kidnapping warning to France

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Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden warned France in a recording aired by Al-Jazeera television on Wednesday that its security would be compromised if it does not pull its troops out of Afghanistan.

Bin Laden urged the French government to treat as a warning the kidnapping of five of its nationals and two other foreigners in the arid north of Niger last month.

He said a ban on the wearing of the Islamic veil in public places in France justified violence against its citizens.

"As you wrongly have decided that you have the right to ban Muslim women from wearing the veil, is it not our right to drive out your conquerors by killing them?" Bin Laden asked.

"The kidnapping of your experts in Niger ... is in retaliation for the tyranny you practice against our Muslim nation."

The seven hostages -- five French nationals, a Togolese and a Madagascan -- were seized in a Niger uranium-mining town on the night of September 15 to September 16.

They are believed by intelligence agents in countries concerned to be held in an area of the Sahara desert in neighbouring Mali.

The Al-Qaeda leader warned the French government that continuation of its role in the NATO force in Afghanistan would rebound on domestic security.

"The way to protect your security is to bring your tyranny against our nation to an end, most importantly to withdraw from the damned war of (former US president George W.) Bush in Afghanistan," he said.

"How could you take part in occupying our countries and support the Americans in killing our children and women, and then expect to live in peace and security?" he asked.

"It is very simple -- as you kill, you will be killed, as you take hostages, you will be taken hostages, and as you compromise our security, we will compromise your security."

Bin Laden began his message to the French people by saying he wanted to set out "the reasons for threatening your security and taking your people as prisoners."

On September 30, Al-Qaeda's North African branch posted a photograph and audio recordings of the seven hostages, who were mostly working for the French nuclear group Areva and its subcontractors.

The French government has indicated it is willing to talk to the kidnappers, but has received no contact from the group.

The last message from the elusive Al-Qaeda chief was in early October, when he issued a call for aid to flood victims in Pakistan.

In a speech poasted on the Internet entitled "Help Your Pakistani Brothers," the Al-Qaeda leader focused on the reluctance of Arab and Muslim countries to help Pakistanis, singling out Gulf states, Malaysia and Turkey, US monitoring group SITE Intelligence said.

Bin Laden's whereabouts are unknown, but in August, the US commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, said he is "far buried" in the remote mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan and that capturing him remains a key task.

© 2010 AFP

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