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Al Qaeda group extends French hostage ultimatum

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has extended to an unspecified date its ultimatum to kill French hostage Pierre Camatte (pictured) if four of its members detained in Mali were not released by Saturday, a negotiator told AFP.


AFP - The north African branch of Al-Qaeda, which was threatening to kill a French hostage, has put back an ultimatum that was due to expire at midnight, a Malian negotiator said on Saturday.

Pierre Camatte was abducted from his hotel in Menaka, more than 1,500 kilometres (1,000 miles) from Mali's capital Bamako, in November.

He is one of six Europeans being held by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which said it would execute the Frenchman if four of its members detained in Mali were not released by January 30.

A Malian negotiator told AFP late Saturday that AQIM had put the ultimatum back to an unspecified date.

"The ultimatum has been put back by Al-Qaeda. I have told the Malian government which has been in contact with France," the negotiator said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"No precise date was given, but we need to act quickly to find a solution," the negotiator said.

The 61-year-old Camatte was a regular visitor to Mali, where he cultivates a plant used to treat malaria. He is the first Frenchman to be kidnapped by AQIM, and a source said that Paris had sent envoys to Bamako in recent days to try to secure his release.

The Malian negotiator dismissed earlier reports that the hostage-takers were seeking a ransom.

"The people who were talking about a ransom are crooks who claimed to be intermediaries but were just after money," the negotiator said.

AQIM has also kidnapped three Spanish volunteers, two men and a women who were travelling in Mauritania in a humanitarian aid convoy on November 29.

They have been identified as Albert Vilalta, 35, Alicia Gamez, 35, and Roque Pascual, 50, who were working on behalf of Spanish group Barcelona Accio Solidaria.

In the last week, four suspects involved in the Spanish kidnap have been arrested in Mauritania, security sources said Saturday.

AQIM has also claimed responsibility for the abduction of two Italians in Mauritania on December 18 and posted pictures on the Internet of the hostages, Sergio Cicala, 65, and Philomene Kabore, 39.

The threats made by AQIM are being taken seriously, especially after the group executed British hostage Edwin Dyer in Mali, blaming Britain for failing to release a radical Muslim cleric in exchange.

AQIM had given Britain a 20-day ultimatum which it extended by 15 days before executing the hostage.

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