Five French and two Africans kidnapped in Niger: official

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Kidnappers abducted five French, a Togolese and a Madagascan on Thursday in a uranium mining region of the West African country of Niger that is prey to Al-Qaeda militants, a security source said.

"The attackers were probably elements of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or bandits who sell their hostages on to the jihadists," the Nigerien official told AFP in Niamey, speaking on condition of anonymity.

French nuclear giant Areva and engineering group Vinci confirmed that seven of their employees had been taken overnight in the Arlit region of the Sahara desert, 800 kilometres (500 miles) northeast of the capital.

"A certain number of measures have been taken, by police and the military, to quickly find the victims and the kidnappers without putting the hostages' lives in danger," Niger government spokesman Laouali Dan Dah said.

Areva said that one of its employees at its uranium mine in Arlit and his wife, both French citizens, had been kidnapped overnight. "They were taken from their accommodation in Arlit," a company spokesman said.

Construction firm Satom, a subsidiary of Vinci, said five of its employees had been taken but did not identify them nor give their nationalities.

"We're doing everything we can to confirm this information," French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said in Paris.

Areva operates a major uranium mining operation in the Arlit region, which is remote and prey to roving gangs of Touareg rebels, armed bandits and Islamist militants linked to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Last month France declared it was "at war" with Al-Qaeda after the murder of a previous French hostage,78-year-old Michel Germaneau, who was taken in Niger in April and transported across the desert to a militant camp in Mali.

© 2010 AFP

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