|Bin Laden says in the audio message that France it will pay dearly for its policy in Afghanistan and elsewhere [AFP]
The leader of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, has called for the withdrawal of French troops from Muslim lands in exchange for the release of hostages, in an audio message.
Referring to French hostages being held in Niger, the speaker on the tape, who sounded like Bin Laden, says their release depended on moves by their own government.
He says France will pay dearly for its policy in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
"President Nicolas Sarkozy's refusal to remove his forces from Afghanistan is nothing but a green light for killing the French hostages," Bin Laden says in the recording, broadcast on Al Jazeera on Friday.
"We repeat the same message to you: The release of your prisoners in the hands of our brothers is linked to the withdrawal of your soldiers from our country."
This is the second tape that Bin Laden, believed to be hiding in the mountainous border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, has released an audio recording attacking French policy and linking the French presence in Afghanistan to the kidnapping of its nationals in Niger.
Seven foreigners, including five French nationals, were kidnapped in Niger in September, with the group's north African wing Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claiming responsibility.
AQIM also claimed responsibility for two Frenchmen found dead last week after a failed rescue attempt in Niger, but the group did not say how the men died.
Following the kidnappings last year, an AQIM spokesman, Salah Abi Mohammed, said in an audio message: "We inform the French government that the mujahedeen will later transmit their legitimate demands."
The September kidnapping was an escalation of hostilities between AQIM and France.
AQIM killed 78-year-old Frenchman Michel Germaneu last July after French commandos took part in a failed raid to free him.
France has eight hostages held across the world, five held by AQIM in Niger, two in Afghanistan held by the Taliban, and one in Somalia.
Bin Laden's last audiotaped message to France, released on Al Jazeera in October, attacked France's planned ban on full-face Islamic veils, a subject also latched on to in reported demands made by the AQIM kidnappers for its repeal.
In August 2009, al-Qaeda's number two, Ayman al-Zawahri, criticised France over what he called its hatred for Muslims and issued a list of historical grudges he said Muslims should feel for France's colonial actions in the Middle East and Africa.