Bin Laden threatens France
Dubai – Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden said in an audio recording that the release of French hostages held in Niger depends on France's soldiers leaving Muslim lands, al-Jazeera television reported on Friday.
The pan Arab television station broadcast the tape in which the speaker, who sounded like the al-Qaeda head, addressed his message to the French people.
"President Nicolas Sarkozy's refusal to remove his forces from Afghanistan is nothing but a green light for killing the French hostages," he said. "But we will not do that at the time that he determines to try and finish off with the repercussions of his position, which will cost him and you dearly within France and outside of it."
This is the second tape that al-Qaeda's leader, believed to be hiding in the mountainous border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, has apparently released blasting French policy and linking the French presence in Afghanistan to the kidnapping of its nationals in Niger.
"Our message to you (the French people) is the same today as it was yesterday: The release of your hostages from the hands of our brothers depends on you removing your soldiers from our lands," he said. "Your president's refusal to leave Afghanistan is the result of his subordination to America."
Seven foreigners, including five French employees of Areva and Vinci, were kidnapped in Niger in September. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the north African wing of the militant group, claimed responsibility.
AQIM also claimed responsibility last week for two Frenchmen found dead after a failed rescue attempt in Niger in early January, but did not say how the men died.
Eight hostages across the world
In Paris, foreign ministry spokesperson Bernard Valero said the Bin Laden tape had not yet been authenticated, but he expressed "France's commitment to the international force in Afghanistan".
The September 16 kidnapping was an escalation in the hostilities between the militant group and France. AQIM killed 78-year-old Frenchman Michel Germaneu last July after French commandos took part in a failed raid to free him.
France has eight hostages held across the world, five held by AQIM in Niger, two in Afghanistan held by the Taliban, and one in Somalia.
Unlike Britain and Spain, France has never been attacked by al-Qaeda at home, despite being a Nato member that took part in the invasion of Afghanistan and still having troops there.
But analysts say that al-Qaeda, and in particular AQIM may now pose a growing threat to targets in France, not just French interests in Africa's Sahel.
Analysts suspect al-Qaeda senior leaders such as bin Laden would like AQIM to up the stakes in this way, calculating that an attack on French soil will have far greater political impact on the West than killing French citizens in remote areas of impoverished African countries.
Bin Laden's last audio tape to France, released on Al-Jazeera in October, also attacked a planned French ban on full-face Islamic veils, a subject also latched onto in reported demands made by the AQIM kidnappers for its repeal.