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Gunmen seize two French nationals in Niger

Video by Fiona CAMERON

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-01-08

Two armed men kidnapped two French nationals from a crowded restaurant in Niamey, Niger's capital, late Friday. France is already working to secure the release of five French hostages seized in Niger in September 2010.

AFP - Heavily armed members of Niger's security forces were combing the centre of the capital Saturday after gunmen abducted two Frenchmen from a restaurant in front of shocked diners and staff.             

Two armed men burst into the Toulousain restaurant in the city centre when it was crowded with diners late Friday and forced the two men to follow them, staff and diners told AFP.
             
They were taken to a four-by-four vehicle with Benin plates in which other armed men were waiting and then driven off at speed. The incident happened between 10:30 pm and 11:30 pm (2130 and 2230 GMT).
             
Negotiations are continuing to free the seven French hostages in Niger
A security source in Niger confirmed the abduction, while a police source said that one of the two abducted men had arrived that same day to attend a wedding.
             
A French foreign ministry spokesman in Paris told AFP late Friday: "We are aware of this information, we are fully mobilised both in Paris and in Niamey to check it."
             
At the restaurant, staff and diners described what had happened.
             
"The Frenchmen tried to resist but finally they (the abductors) pushed them into the car and they drove off quickly," said one staff member.
             
Witnesses said both abductors wore turbans and one customer at the restaurant said the two had fair skin and had spoken Arabic.
             
"When they came in they fell on the two Frenchmen and they shouted, 'You and you, follow us'. In their rush, one of the attackers lost his turban.
             
"When they went out with the two Frenchmen, I took my car and I chased them for about a kilometre, but as they were moving at great speed and with the lights out, I couldn't catch them," the staffer said.
             
Some diners told AFP that they had seen the vehicles used by the kidnappers near the restaurant a few hours before the abduction.
             
France is already working to secure the release of five French hostages seized in Niger in September along with a Togolese and a Madagascan.
              
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) are believed to be holding them in neighbouring Mali.
             
In November, AQIM head Abdelmalek Droukdel, alias Abou Moussaab Abdelouadoud, said in a message on Al-Jazeera television that Osama bin Laden alone could negotiate the release of the hostages.
             
French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie rejected any suggestion that France would negotiate their freedom with bin Laden or pull its troops out of Afghanistan.
 

Photo © Claude Ménager / Flickr

Date created : 2011-01-08

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