France says hostages in Niger apparently executed

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Two French hostages killed after being kidnapped in Niger were apparently executed by their captors, the French military said on Sunday.

"Everything seems to indicate that the two French hostages... were executed," said Thierry Burkhard, a spokesman for the armed forces in the defence ministry.

The two Frenchmen, both 25, were seized at gunpoint by suspected Al-Qaeda-linked militants from a restaurant in Niamey on Friday and died during a France-Niger rescue bid in the desert Saturday, officials said.

One of them was a former aid worker who had been due to marry a local woman next week. The other was his childhood friend, who had just arrived in Niamey to attend the ceremony when the two were snatched late Friday.

Burkhard said that a French surveillance aircraft backed up Niger armed forces as they chased the kidnappers and located them in the desert, enabling troops on the ground to attack.

A commander in the Niger forces was wounded in a first clash with the kidnappers, he said.

The aircraft then pursued the captors further and a second fight took place in which "several" of the kidnappers were killed and two French ground troops slightly injured, Burkhard said.

The French foreign ministry meanwhile warned French nationals against travel to the Sahel -- a region of northern Africa covering Niger, Mali and Mauritania where several other French people have been taken hostage.

"No place can be considered safe" for French nationals in the region, the foreign ministry said on its website, urging them to exercise "the greatest vigilance."

© 2011 AFP

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