France asks for US help in Niger kidnap crisis: officials

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France has asked for US military help to track down five French nationals taken hostage in Niger in a kidnapping claimed by Al-Qaeda's north Africa wing, two US officials told AFP Tuesday.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, declined to offer any details about the US military's support for French forces, but analysts said the assistance could include imagery from spy satellites or unmanned aircraft.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility for last week's kidnapping and said it would soon make demands to France, its spokesman Salah Abi Mohammed said in an audio tape played by Al-Jazeera.

A US counter-terrorism official declined to comment on Al-Qaeda's claim, but said the group's North African branch was "a dangerous terrorist node that's capable of carrying out a range of vicious attacks against innocents."

"Their intentions shouldn't be underestimated, and that's why it's important to thwart their plans and activities," he said.

The French nationals are among seven hostages kidnapped on Thursday from their homes in Arlit in northern Niger.

France's Defense Minister Herve Morin said every effort was being made to track down the hostages who have been moved by their kidnappers to the northern Mali desert.

© 2010 AFP

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