Al Qaeda threatens to kill French hostages
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In a statement released this week purportedly by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the group threatens to kill its French hostages if France joins a future military intervention in northern Mali.
Amid frantic diplomatic efforts for a military intervention against armed Islamist groups in northern Mali, al Qaeda’s North African branch has threatened to kill French hostages it is holding in the region. The threat was made in a purported al-Qaeda statement published Wednesday on a regional news website.
In the statement published on the Mauritanian news site Sahara Media, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said France had "imprudently" aggravated the Malian crisis by seeking armed intervention in the north.
It went on to say that a French intervention in Mali would be "mad” and would provoke the deaths of the French hostages.
The warning came as Malian Prime Minister Cheik Modibo Diarra was meeting with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in Paris on Thursday.
France rules out sending troops to Mali
France, Mali’s former colonial power, has promised to provide logistical support and share intelligence as part of a future intervention in northern Mali.
But Paris has categorically ruled out directly sending troops to Mali – partly due to the hostage situation.
A region the size of France, northern Mali has been effectively controlled by a motley mix of armed Islamist groups since a March 22 military coup unleashed a “perfect storm of woes” in the impoverished West African nation.
AQIM - along with a fluid network of Islamist groups - operates in the Sahel, a tough, remote terrain between the Sahara and the African savannah that straddles the border regions of Algeria, Mali, Niger and Mauritania.
The group is currently holding four French citizens kidnapped in September 2010 from the town of Arlit in Niger's northern uranium mining zone as well as two other French hostages captured in the Sahel region.
The four French captives were last seen in a video statement released in late August and published on the Sahara Media site on September 8.
The French Foreign Ministry has declined to comment on the latest statement because it has not yet been authenticated.
Opposition from March 21 coup soldiers
The latest purported AQIM statement comes as the West African regional bloc ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) is gearing up for a military intervention in northern Mali amid mounting international alarm over the deteriorating security and human rights situation in the area.
In a report published Thursday, the London-based Amnesty International said human rights violations - including extrajudicial executions, amputations and other corporal punishments - have been rampant in northern Mali in recent months.
Despite growing calls for an international mission, talks between Malian and ECOWAS officials have stalled in recent days – reportedly over the reluctance of the Malian soldiers who led the March 22 coup to accept a foreign force, fearing that it would curtail their influence.
ECOWAS officials are set to seek a UN Security Council mandate for a military intervention in northern Mali. An earlier request to the Security Council made in June was turned down because it was too vague.
But earlier this week, Ivory Coast's UN envoy, Youssoufou Bamba, told the UN Security Council that ECOWAS continues to encounter "fierce resistance" in Mali from some members of the military junta responsible for the March 22 coup.
"The question of leadership in Mali remains unclear and this is sending confused signals," said Bamba.