|French firms Areva and Vinci confirmed seven of its employees working at the mine in Arlit had been kidnapped [AFP]
Seven people, including at least two French nationals of state-owned nuclear company, Areva, have been kidnapped in northern Niger, a spokesman for the company confirmed.
Pauline Briand said that the seven were kidnapped overnight from Wednesday to Thursday near the town of Arlit, in the West African nation.
Briand said that at least two of those abducted were Areva employees and French citizens. She said the five others worked for an Areva subcontractor.
Construction firm Satom, a subsidiary of French engineering giant Vinci, said the five others kidnapped were its employees.
Bernard Valero, a French foreign ministry spokesman, confirmed the kidnappings and said French authorities were "totally mobilised'' to respond to the situation.
A spokesman for the government of Niger said that at least five people had been kidnapped overnight and that they were "mainly" French citizens.
"A certain number of measures have been taken, by police and the military, to quickly find the victims and the kidnappers without putting the hostages' lives in danger," Laouali Dan Dah, a Niger government spokesman, said.
Areva employees working in Niger have been abducted in the past. In 2008, the company announced the release of four of its employees, all French nationals, who had been kidnapped by the Movement for Justice group, which opposes the mining of ancestral lands.
Kidnappings of foreigners has become more frequent in West Africa's Sahara-Sahel region over the last year, with hostages usually ending up in the hands of groups linked to al Qaeda's North African wing.
France has said it is at war with the group and pledged further military support to countries in the region after Islamists said in July they had executed aid worker Michel Germaneau, a French citizen they were holding after a failed French-Mauritanian raid to free him.
He had been abducted three months earlier in Niger.