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Sarkozy condemns French hostage 'assassination'

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has condemned the killing of French hostage Michel Germaneau, held captive since April by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, confirming the group's claim on Sunday that they killed the 78-year-old aid worker.

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy confirmed on Monday the death of French aid worker Michel Germaneau, held captive by Islamic militants in North Africa since April.

The leader of Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), Abdelhamid Abu Zayd, released an audio recording on Sunday claiming his group had killed Germaneau to avenge the killing of six group members in a joint military raid on Friday

In the French government's first acknowledgment of the raid, Sarkozy condemned the “assassination” and has urged French travellers to avoid travel to the Sahel, a region stretching across North Africa, south of the Sahara desert.

"I condemn this barbarous act, this odious act, which has just left an innocent victim," Sarkozy said. "Far from weakening our determination, his death must reinforce it."

Germaneau was last seen on May 14 when his abductors issued a photo of the frail, retired engineer. He said at the time that he suffered from a serious heart illness and that he had run out of medication. The heat, he added, further complicated his weak health.

A devoted humanitarian who fell in love with Niger

Michel Germaneau was captured from the village of In-Abangharet in the deserts of northern Niger where he had been working to build health systems and schools for the humanitarian aid agency Enimal.

Germaneau made his first visit to the region in 2006 when he was there with a group of friends to observe a solar eclipse. He apparently fell in love with the area and its people.

“After this trip, we got a group of people and decided to do something for this region,” said friend and Enimal president Yvonne Montico.

Germaneau, according to friends, was an avid traveller throughout his career and well into his retirement. The former electronics engineer from southwest France was unmarried and had no children. After he retired, he devoted more and more of his time to volunteer projects throughout North Africa.

Map showing AQIM's desert sanctuary
Map showing AQIM's desert sanctuary

There he became friends with an Algerian, Abidine Ouaghi, who he worked with in Niger to build clinics, schools and water purification systems among other projects. Ouaghi was with Germaneau on April 19 when a group of AQIM militants stormed the village to take the two men hostage. While Ouaghi was released a few days later, Germaneau was not as fortunate.

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