|Bin Laden used the taped message to urge France to withdraw from Afghanistan [AFP]
Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda, has justified the kidnapping of five French citizens in Niger last month, calling the abductions the result of French injustices against Muslims and warning they will continue.
In a new audio recording attributed to bin Laden and released to Al Jazeera on Wednesday, he called on the people of France to stop "interven[ing] in the affairs of Muslims in North and West Africa".
"The subject of my speech is the reason why your security is being threatened and your sons are being taken hostage," he said.
"The taking of your experts in Niger as hostages, while they were being protected by your proxy [agent] there, is a reaction to the injustice you are practicing against our Muslim nation."
"How could it be fair that you intervene in the affairs of Muslims, in North and West Africa in particular, support your proxies [agents] against us, and take a lot of our wealth in suspicious deals, while our people there suffer various forms of poverty and despair?"
Al-Qaeda's North African wing claimed responsibility for the September kidnappings of five French nationals, along with two others from Madagascar and Togo.
Al-Qaeda released photographs of the group late last month, showing the hostages sitting on the sand as several armed men in Bedouin clothing stood behind them.
The hostages are reportedly being held in a mountainous region in northwestern Mali. French officials say they have not received any demands from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the group that carried out the kidnapping.
The hostages are employees of two French firms, Areva and Vinci, which do business in the mining town of Arlit in Niger.
Bin Laden also used the latest recording to criticise France's plan to ban the wearing of full face veils in public - a law due to be implemented next year.
"If you unjustly thought that it is your right to prevent free Muslim women from wearing the face veil, is it not our right to expel your invading men and cut their necks?
Bin Laden used the taped message to urge France to withdraw from Afghanistan, calling it an unjust war - and pledged more kidnappings if his warnings are not heeded.
"The equation is very clear and simple: as you kill, you will be killed; as you take others hostages, you will be taken hostages; as you waste our security we will waste you waste your security," he said.
Anne Juudichelli, the head of security think-tank Terrorisc, told Al Jazeera the message was significant because it gave another frame to the hostage issue "which will have major consequences on how to negotiate with the group".
"It is the first time that Osama bin Laden has directly addressed the French government," said Juudichelli, who worked at the French foreign ministry's Middle East section for nine years, and who was in charge of the government's "terrorism" portfolio post-September 11.
"We are waiting for the group to declare exactly what they want," she added.
"One of his strategies is to try and draw a distinction between French Muslims and French people in order to put pressure on the government and obtain more in the hostage negotiations."
Bin Laden's whereabouts are unknown, but in August, General David Petraeus, the US commander in Afghanistan, said he is "far buried" in the remote mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan and that capturing him remains a key task.
Bin Laden is the world's most-wanted man, with the US offering a reward of up to $25m for information leading to his capture.
Source: Al Jazeera