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Al Qaeda affiliate claims kidnapping of seven foreigners in Niger

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-09-22

Al Qaeda’s North African wing says it was responsible for kidnapping seven foreign workers, including five French nationals, from a uranium mine in Niger.

France is making efforts to confirm that Al Qaeda’s North African wing kidnapped seven people, including five French nationals, at a Uranium mine operated by a French nuclear manufacturer in Niger last week.

Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) announced in an audio recording on Tuesday on Arabic TV channel Al Jazeera that it was responsible for taking the workers hostage.

“Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claims the kidnapping of five French nationals in Niger several days ago," the channel reported.

“The [AQIM] men were able to attack the mine of … which is considered one the most important sources of uranium that France has been stealing from for decades.”

The message said AQIM fighters overcame security in the area and kidnapped “five French nuclear experts” and said it would issue its demands to the French government “shortly”.

Al Jazeera did not mention the fate of the other two hostages, a Malagasy and a Togolese.

As the claims were broadcast on Al Jazeera, the French Security Defence Council, which includes the prime minister, the defence minister and military chief of staff were meeting to discuss the situation.

French forces hunting down the kidnappers

The Niger kidnappings are the latest in a string in the Sahel, a desert region spanning Africa and dividing the Sahara from the south, that have been claimed by AQIM, but until now they had not staged any operations in the part of Niger where the five French nationals were abducted.

Niger authorities believe the kidnapping was led by Algerian national Abdul Ahmid Abu Zeid, who is linked to AQIM. Abu Zeid is accused of killing a British hostage last year and 78-year-old Frenchman Michel Germaneau in July.

Until Tuesday, there had been no claim of responsibility for the kidnappings, which took place in the northern mining Niger town of Arlit and involved employees of the French firms Areva and Vinci.

Areva on Tuesday said in a statement that the company was doing everything it could to assist the Niger and French authorities in tracking down its employees.

On Tuesday left-leaning French daily Le Monde published a letter dated September 1 sent by the Niger authorities to Areva warning of the danger of kidnappings in the area.

"In these difficult conditions, you will understand the threat from AQIM is to be taken seriously," the letter said.

A source close to the Niger government on Saturday said that around 100 French anti-terrorist forces were operating in Niger hunting for the hostages.

Date created : 2010-09-21

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