A new audio message purportedly from Osama bin Laden says the kidnapping of five French nationals in Niger last month was in response to what he called France's unjust treatment of Muslims.
In an audiotape aired by al-Jazeera television Wednesday, bin Laden called on France to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. He said France can not expect to, in his words, occupy our countries and kill our women and children and then wish to live in security and peace.
France has about 4,000 troops in Afghanistan.
Bin Laden also threatened retribution for France's plan, starting next year, to ban Muslim women from wearing full face veils.
A group called al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb took seven hostages - five French and two Africans - at a uranium mine in northern Niger last month.
According to al-Jazeera, bin Laden said, "As you kill, you will be killed. Just as you take prisoners, you are taken hostage."
A video posted last month to the website YouTube showed the seven hostages kidnapped in Niger. They are now believed to be in neighboring Mali. The speakers all named al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb as their abductors.
The group has carried out previous kidnappings in northwest Africa, including that of a 78-year-old Frenchman who was abducted in Niger in April and later killed.
The precise whereabouts of bin Laden, the mastermind behind the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S., are unknown.
U.S. General David Petraeus, the commander of the allied forces in Afghanistan, said in August that bin Laden is believed to be in the remote mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.