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Al-Qaida Group Claims Responsibility for Niger Kidnapping

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Terrorists affiliated with al-Qaida are claiming responsibility for last week's kidnapping of seven foreigners in Niger.  The hostages were taken from a French uranium mine.

In remarks broadcast on al-Qaida's website, a spokesman for the group al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb said its fighters stormed a French uranium mine near the town of Arlit, despite heavy security.

The spokesman identifying himself as Salah Abu Mohammed said the raid was led by a Abu Zaide, who heads one of two al-Qaida cells in the Islamic Maghreb factions.  Mohammed said the group's men kidnapped five French engineers at the site of one of the world's richest deposits of uranium, a strategic resource that Mohammed says France has been stealing for decades.

Two of the engineers work for the French nuclear energy firm, Areva.  The other three French nationals, along with hostages from Togo and Madascar, work for a subsidiary of the French construction company Vinci.

French television reported hundreds of French commandos have arrived in neighboring Burkina Faso to help search for the hostages.

Mohammed said the French government should not intervene, following the terrorist group's execution of French hostage Michel Germaneau in July after French commandos took part in a failed raid to free him.

Mohammed also said al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb will later inform the French government of its demands for the release of the hostages, warning the Nicolas Sarkozy government to stay away from committing what he called another felony or "any sort of stupidity."

Mohammed said companies exploiting resources in the Sahel must know that they are legal targets of Muslim freedom fighters.  He said those companies should quickly leave the area because they are illegally exhausting the region's resources.

Security officials in Niger believe the gunmen and their hostages have crossed the border into Mali and are now hiding in the desert.  Analysts believe al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb is building a base along the borders of Algeria, Mali and Niger after being driven from its original locations along the Algerian coast.

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