Qaeda wants €90m ransom for French

2011-03-21 22:10

Gao - Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim) is demanding at least €90m in ransom for the release of four French hostages held since September, a source close to mediators said on Monday.

The hostages were kidnapped in September 2010 in neighbouring Niger, where France has a large stake in uranium mining, and are still being held hostage in the desert.

"The kidnappers are demanding at least €90m to release the four French hostages still being held," said the Niger source close to talks taking place in northern Mali.

"They also want the release of Aqim prisoners taken in several countries, including France," the source said.

"I can tell you that everyone is mobilised to obtain the release of the hostages," the source added.

The four were among seven hostages seized in September in the uranium-mining town of Arlit in Niger and then taken into Mali.

They included an executive of French nuclear giant Areva and his wife, while the other five men worked for an Areva subsidiary.

The seven included five French nationals, a Togolese and a Madagascan. The latter two and the French woman were freed on February 25, after a ransom was paid, according to a source close to negotiations.

The group's abduction was claimed by Aqim, whose leader warned France to pull its troops out of Afghanistan if it wanted to see the safe return of the French hostages.

Aqim on November 18 urged France to negotiate the fate of the captives with Osama Bin Laden directly, but Paris rejected this demand, stating that its foreign policy would not be dictated from outside.

The north African branch of al-Qaeda operates in a vast desert area across Algeria, Mauritania, Mali and Niger, where it carries out attacks, trafficking and kidnapping of Westerners.

On March 4 the chairperson of the Areva group, Anne Lauvergeon, said that she had "high hopes" of seeing the remaining French hostages returning to France "as soon as possible".

Read more on:    niger  |  mali  |  west africa

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