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France Rejects Al-Qaida Demands for Hostage Release

Images of a group of foreign hostages working for a French energy company who were seized in Niger (file)

France has rejected a demand by al-Qaida of the Islamic Maghreb that it negotiate with al-Qaida leader Osama bin Ladin for the release of five French hostages, kidnapped in Niger in September.

On September 16, the Algerian Islamist group al-Qaida of the Islamic Maghreb seized five French nationals, one Madagascan and one Togolese from a large French uranium mine in the West African country of Niger.

In an audio declaration aired by al-Jazeera, militant leader Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud said France would have to direct any further hostage negotiations to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Ladin.

Wadoud says you will not enjoy peace on God's land until we have enjoyed it as a reality in Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, the Islamic Maghreb and other countries. He says if France wants peace for its captured countrymen, it should hasten to withdraw its soldiers from Afghanistan.

French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie responded, saying that France will not let its policy be dictated by the outside. She said France was doing everything in its power to make sure the hostages, wherever they are, are released unharmed.

Nouakchott University political science professor Mohamed Ould Mohamed El Moctar said this reference to Osama bin Ladin was an important shift for al-Qaida of the Islamic Maghreb.

The professor says the militant leader linked the hostage situation to Osama bin Ladin and asserted that any future negotiations would have to be with the central organism of al-Qaida. Further, he says al-Qaida of the Islamic Maghreb's demands have traditionally been financial, so these political demands represent a shift.

Since 2003, al-Qaida of the Islamic Maghreb has kidnapped foreign nationals for ransom, sometimes killing them. In July, the group announced that it had executed a 78-year-old French hostage after a failed rescue attempt.