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France Suspects Al-Qaida Behind Niger Kidnappings


French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner (file photo)

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner (file photo)

France's foreign minister says his country suspects that al-Qaida's North African wing is responsible for the kidnapping of seven foreigners in Niger. But Bernard Kouchner added France has not received any claim of responsibility from the group.

Speaking on French radio Friday, Kouchner said France suspects al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb or a group linked to it is responsible for the kidnapping.

The group was kidnapped overnight on Wednesday. Five are French nationals, another two are from Togo and Madagascar.

Kouchner said it would not be the first time France has dealt with the group. France declared war on the North African militants in July after they executed a 78-year-old French aid worker.

Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which is known by the acronym AQIM, has kidnapped nationals from a number of European countries.

At the end of August, AQIM released two Spanish aid workers who had been held captive for almost nine months.

Africa analyst Peter Pham is from the National Committee on American Foreign Policy. He says AQIM poses an increasing threat.

"I think it's a growing concern, one that governments in the region and beyond need to keep focus on," he said.

The group was originally based in Algeria. In 2006 it aligned itself with al-Qaida and since then, says Pham, the group's abilities have grown.

He says ransoms are often paid by governments for their nationals to be released. That, combined with money he says AQIM makes from the drug trade, has given the group increased strength. He says AQIM is now hiring operators to carry out its work.

"Instead of selecting operatives purely on ideological reasons of affinity to the group's goals, what AQIM has done is it has gone out and hired the best operators to carry out an operation," he said.

Officials say those abducted this week were workers from the nuclear company Areva and a subsidiary of the construction company Vinci.

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