France confirms two nationals kidnapped in Mali

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France on Thursday confirmed that two of its nationals had been kidnapped in the west African state of Mali, where security sources said a gang seized them at gunpoint from their hotel.

Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said they were taken in circumstances that were not yet clear. The kidnap brings to six the number of French held in the region, where an Al-Qaeda offshoot has four nationals abducted in Niger in 2010.

"We are in the process of gathering information" on how the pair were taken, Juppe told iTele news channel.

Security sources in Mali said the two geologists were seized from the village of Hombori, in eastern Mali near the border with Niger, in an assault bearing the hallmark of Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militants.

Mali is home to a number of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb bases used to launch attacks and kidnappings in the Sahel region on the southern side of the Sahara that includes Mali, Algeria, Niger and Mauritania.

The two geologists, who were working for a cement works in the region, were seized a day after a former French military official involved in efforts to free the hostages in Niger was reportedly shot and wounded.

© 2011 AFP

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