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France Calls on Al-Qaida-linked Group to Make Hostage Release Demand

French Defense Minister Herve Morin (Sep 2010 file photo)

France's Defense Minister Herve Morin called Thursday for the North African militant group al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb to make its demands for the release of five French nationals and two other foreigners kidnapped in Niger last week.

Speaking on on French radio Thursday, Mr. Morin spoke on French radio Thursday. He said he believes the seven hostages are still alive.

Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, is a North African militant group with links to al-Qaida. It has taken responsibility for the kidnapping.

Morin said Thursday he believes the seven, who were taken hostage in Niger, may now have been moved to northern Mali.

But he said northern Mali is an immense and mountainous area. Finding them, he said, could be as difficult as finding Osama bin Laden.

France has sent a team of military personnel to help search for the hostages.

According to the U.S.-based terror monitoring group SITE, AQIM has posted statements on jihadist forums warning the French not to launch a rescue mission.

In July, a joint French and Mauritanian mission was launched to rescue a 78 year-old French aid worker Michel Germanueau, who had been kidnapped by AQIM. The mission failed to rescue Germanueau but a number of AQIM militants were killed in the operation. Germanueau was later executed in retaliation.

The seven hostages were taken from a uranium mine in northern Niger. Five are French and the other two are from Togo and Madagascar.