|An audio track is recorded over the photos that appears to be the men reading a prepared statement [AFP]
Al-Qaeda's North African arm has released a video showing four French nuclear workers kidnapped last year in north Africa urging France to pull its troops out of Afghanistan.
A copy of the video, distributed on Tuesday by SITE, a US-based terrorism watchdog, shows a series of photographs of Pierre Legrand, Daniel Larribe, Thierry Dol and Marc Furrer with armed men standing behind them.
Over the photos is recorded an audio track that appears to be the men reading a prepared statement, one by one.
"We urge the president of the French republic, Nicolas Sarkozy, to respond positively to al-Qaeda's demand he withdraw French troops from Afghanistan, as the French have really no interest in the war in Afghanistan," they say.
According to the voices, the recordings were made on April 11, 12 and 13.
Reacting to the video, Laurent Wauquiez, France's minister for European affairs, told the French news network BFM-TV that Paris would "not allow its foreign policy to be dictated by kidnappers".
In September last year, armed men working for AQIM kidnapped seven people, including the four men in the video, from a uranium mining town
In February, three of the group, a French woman, a Togolese man and a Madagascan man were released, but sources close to the negotiations say that the group has demanded $132m in ransom for the remaining hostages.
It is believed the four men are being held in secret camps in the deserts of neighbouring Mali.
"Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is now starting to be impatient," said a source, who wished to remain anonymous, close to the hostage negotiations.
"Asking France for the departure of its troops from Afghanistan, it is impatience, it is a threat," the source added.
Mohamed Ould Sidy Ahmed, a politician from northern Mali, where AQIM is most active, said the video of the four hostages gave a "double message".
Firstly, while three others kidnapped alongside the French had been freed, the main condition for freeing the remaining four hostages would be meeting bin Laden's demand that French troops leave Afghanistan.
"The second message is also important," he said. "AQIM is increasing its tone vis-a-vis Paris. To AQIM, France is dragging its feet. Threats are beginning to land."
Bokari Diko, a Malian journalist, also underlined the significance of the latest message.
"We are entering a critical phase for the French hostages," said Diko.
"Generally, after this kind of message AQIM steps things up a notch, following with an ultimatum and the execution of hostages."
Edwin Dyer, a British hostage and Michel Germeneau, a French hostage, were executed in 2009 and 2010 respectively following similar threats.