French strike killed French hostage
Dubai - Al-Qaeda said a French airstrike killed one of two young Frenchmen its fighters had kidnapped in Niger, while claiming its militants executed the other, a US monitoring group reported on Saturday.
The terror network's North African branch, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, said its fighters also killed six Nigerian soldiers in the clashes a week ago, SITE Intelligence Group reported, citing an AQIM statement posted on jihadist Internet forums.
French prosecutors and anti-terror police have launched a probe into the murky circumstances of the January 8 battle in which Frenchmen Vincent Delory and Antoine de Leocour were killed along with at least seven other people, including four kidnappers and three Nigerian gendarmes.
AQIM said the deaths were the result of the "foolishness of the French president (Nicholas Sarkozy) in dealing with the mujahideen, and because of his obvious devaluing the lives of his French citizens," according to SITE.
"The French president decided to commit the foolishness of military intervention to rescue the two French hostages despite the warning from the mujahideen," said the statement, which was posted online on Friday.
"The French planes bombed the mujahideen's vehicles, then the mujahideen took one of the hostages away from the targeted vehicle and couldn't reach the other, who got killed by the French later by bombing and not by bullets from the mujahideen."
The Al-Qaeda statement added that contrary to a French "lie... meant to mislead the French public opinion..., the French air force also bombed the Nigerian soldiers and killed and injured some of them!"
"The mujahideen were able to kill and injure four French special forces and kill and injure 12 from Niger. They also damaged a French helicopter.
"With the constant dropping of French troops from the air and the damaging of the mujahideen's vehicles as a result of the bombing, the mujahideen thought that they will not make it and so they executed the second French hostage.
"They killed him with a bullet in the head, and also decided to execute the six Niger soldiers, and they did, thanks to Allah."
AQIM said the "heroic battle" resulted in the deaths of the two kidnapped Frenchmen, the killing and wounding of 22 French and Nigerian forces, a damaged helicopter and "martyrdom of two mujahideen."
It said Sarkozy and his government failed to comprehend the "lesson of (Michel) Germaneau," a Frenchman AQIM claimed to have killed after a failed rescue attempt by French-backed Mauritanian forces in July last year.
It also warned Sarkozy to learn from "the heinous defeat, absolute failure and heavy losses added to the record of your failures so that you may look at yourselves and your policies and remove your oppression".