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France ‘paid $17 million’ ransom for Mali hostages


According to a former US ambassador to Mali, France paid 17 million dollars in 2010 to free four French hostages still being held by their Salafist kidnappers, probably in the county's northeastern Ifoghas mountain range.


Paris paid a ransom in 2010 of some 17 million dollars to free four French hostages - who are still being held by al Qaeda-linked militants, probably in northern Mali, according to a former US ambassador to Mali.

“Two years ago, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) kidnapped a number of French citizens at a uranium mine in Niger,” Vicki Huddleston, who was US ambassador to Mali from 2002 to 2005, told French news channel iTélé late on Thursday.

“To get them freed, France paid a 17-million-dollar ransom. Like all ransoms, it was paid indirectly, through the Malian government, which forwarded at least some of the funds to the Salafists [Islamists].”

The four hostages for whom she said the ransom was paid were taken from the Arlit uranium mine on September 16, 2010.

A further two were taken at Hombori in Mali in November 2011 and the seventh in November 2012 at Kayes, also in Mali.

All seven are believed to be held somewhere in the Ifoghas mountain range in the far north-east of Mali near the Algerian border, where most of the insurgents are believed to be located.

Late on Thursday, French and Chadian troops arrived at the desert town of Aguelhok [LINK], 160 km from the Algerian border, in striking range of the Ifoghas.

As French-led forces moved through northern Mali in a lightning strike to drive out a 10-month Islamist occupation of the north of the country, security was tightened at the uranium mining sites in neighbouring Niger, which are vital to the French economy.

Late in January, there were unconfirmed reports that French energy giant Areva was using French Army Special Forces to reinforce their existing security operation at its Niger sites.

France has always denied paying ransoms to hostage takers. There has been no official reaction to the story since it was published.


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