Al Qaeda group says Paris negotiated to free French hostage
An al Qaeda linked group in the Sahara said Sunday that France had launched its raid in Mauritania while in negotiations with the group to free French hostage Michel Germaneau. This message contradicts earlier French government statements.
AFP - The head of an Al-Qaeda-linked gang in the Sahara desert said he held negotiations with Paris about freeing a kidnapped Frenchman before the hostage was killed, in an Internet message on Sunday.
"Shame on France and its president (Nicolas Sarkozy), who launched their raids while negotiations were under way," Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) chief Abdelmalek Droukdal said, according to the message posted on jihadist websites.
The French authorities never reported that they were in negotiations for the release of the hostage, Michel Germaneau, a 78-year-old aid worker who was abducted in northern Niger on April 19.
The Al-Qaeda offshoot said that it had executed Germaneau on July 24 in revenge for the killing of six comrades in a failed Mauritanian-French rescue raid in Mali.
French Defence Minister Herve Morin said later that Paris had no direct negotiations with Germaneau's captors, while Prime Minister Francois Fillon said the gang may have killed the hostage nearly two weeks before the raid.
"We never had any specific claims" from them, Morin said at the time on France Inter radio. "They even refused any discussion aimed at getting him the medicines he needed for his heart problems."
In Mali, a local elected official told AFP that Germaneau had been beheaded after the raid, in the presence of Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, the leader of an AQIM cell that has been blamed for killing a Briton, Edwin Dyer, in 2009.
Fillon said Germaneau's body had not been recovered and pointed out that Dyer's had never been found either.
Sarkozy vowed on Monday to avenge the murder.
"Dear compatriots, this crime committed against Michel Germaneau will not go unpunished," Sarkozy said, warning French nationals to avoid the arid Sahel region running through Mauritania, Mali, Niger and southern Algeria.
Sarkozy did not reveal what France planned to do in response to the killing, but experts and military officers told AFP to expect an increased use of spies and special forces to target militant groups in the Sahel.
France is the former colonial ruler of most of the Sahel, and retains influence with regional leaders.
Paris already has military cooperation agreements with its former West African colonies, and helps to train and coordinate local anti-terror forces, in an area which receives around 30,000 French tourists per year.