Al-Qaida's North Africa branch says it will kill the Western hostages it holds if European countries make an attempt to rescue them.
The group, known as al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), released a statement Thursday addressed to France, Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden.
The militants said they had information about an imminent operation against their bases in Mali. They said the operation, if authorized, would amount to a death warrant for the hostages.
There has been no confirmation that the message is authentic, and no immediate reaction from France or the other countries.
Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of five foreigners, including two Frenchmen, in Mali in November. It later posted photos on the Internet showing the hostages surrounded by armed men.
The group has operated in Africa's vast Sahel region for several years, claiming responsibility for a series of killings and kidnappings that usually target Westerners.
Countries in the region have taken steps to combat the group but the size and remoteness of the Sahel make it hard to track the group's movements.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.
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