France verifying Al-Qaeda video threat

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France said Friday it was working to authenticate a videotape in which an Al-Qaeda leader in Africa who is holding five French hostages warns Paris to pull its troops out of Afghanistan.

Abdelmalek Droukdel, the head of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), said the safety of the hostages depended on a French pullout in the video broadcast on Al-Jazeera Arabic Television on Thursday, according to the US monitoring group SITE Intelligence.

The tape "is being authenticated now," said French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero.

He told AFP that France was "fully mobilised" in an effort to secure the release of the five French hostages who were seized in Niger in September along with a Togolese and a Madagascan and are believed to be in captivity in neighbouring Mali.

According to a SITE translation, AQIM chief Droukdel said: "(If you) want safety for your citizens who are held captive by us, then you have to hasten and take your soldiers out of Afghanistan according to a specific timetable that you announce officially."

Droukdel, alias Abou Moussaab Abdelouadoud, also said any talks over the hostages would be overseen personally by Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden, who has said the abductions were a reprisal for a ban on the wearing of the Islamic veil in French public places.

Bin Laden, in a recording aired by Al-Jazeera in late October, also said that France's security would be compromised if it does not pull its 3,750 soldiers out of Afghanistan.

France said for the first time Wednesday that it was in touch with the AQIM kidnappers.

"Of course there are all kinds of contact" with the hostage-takers, new Defence Minister Alain Juppe told Europe 1 radio, without giving more details.

"All the (French) authorities, the defence ministry, the foreign ministry, everyone is being extremely vigilant to make the necessary contact," he said.

Asked if the hostages were believed to be safe, Juppe added: "Currently there is every reason to believe they are."

© 2010 AFP

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