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France - Mali

Al-Qaeda in Maghreb claims kidnap of two French men, three other Europeans

RFI/Nouakchott Informations

Al-Qaeda's north African wing has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of two French citizens and three other Europeans in Mali last month. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (Aqim) on Friday released what it said were two photographs of the five Westerners. 

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The Mauritanian news agency ANI, which has has carried statements from Aqim in the past, said the group released the pictures to support a statement issued a day earlier in which it claimed responsibility for the abductions.

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One photo shows two of the hostages, French nationals Serge Lazarevic and Philippe Verdon, with three armed men behind them.

The other shows the three others being held – a Briton, a Swede and a Dutch national - surrounded by four armed men.

All the armed men’s faces are covered by turbans.

On Thursday, Aqim sent a statement to ANI and AFP's Rabat office, accusing the two French nationals of working for the French intelligence service.

The kidnappings were "in response to repeated aggression in France against Muslims from Sahel countries," and "a legitimate reaction against" the European country's policies, the statement read.

The kidnapping took place in Mali because of “the unjustified implication of the government of Amadoy Toumany Touré under pressure from France” against its fighters.

"We will soon make our demands known to France and Mali," it added.

Lazarevic and Verdon were seized at gunpoint from their hotel in the town of Hombori near the border with Niger on 24 November.

The next day gunmen snatched a Swede, a Dutchman and a man with dual British-South African nationality from a restaurant on Timbuktu's central square. They killed a German who tried to resist.

The Aqim statement denied the group carried out an October kidnapping of three European aid workers - two Italians and a Spaniard - from a refugee camp in Tindouf, western Algeria.

French defence minister Gérard Longuet is to join his counterparts from 10 Mediterranean countries in a meeting in the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott, on Sunday.

Spain, France, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco and Mauritania will all be represented.

They are to discuss the flood of weapons into Sahel countries following the ousting and killing of Libya’s Moamer Kadhafi.

It is the first such meeting since new governments took over after the fall of Kadhadi and Tunisia’s Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.

Longuet says that he will also show his support for Mauritania’s government, which is “very involved in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel”.

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