A French citizen has been kidnapped in southwest Mali, bringing the total number of French nationals held by force in the West African country to seven.
Jules Leal, a 61-year-old Portuguese-born French man, was abducted on Wednesday during a stop at a cafe on a road between Mali and neighbouring Mauritania, according to a police official.
“This was the safest road in Mali, but unfortunately today no place in Mali is safe,” the official said.
The kidnapping caused fears that armed groups, which took control over the country’s north in April and claimed responsibility for previous kidnappings of foreigners, are extending their reach.
Francois Hollande, the French president, suggested that the kidnapping could be a pressure tactic to try to thwart the planned military intervention to take back the north.
France has been a driving force behind an initiative seeking to pave the way for military intervention by Mali’s army, backed by other African troops, to remove the fighters from power.
“I confirm that there was a kidnapping of a French citizen in southwest Mali, not in the part where there is the most danger,” Hollande said at a news conference, without elaborating.
“To capture a hostage is a means to put pressure, a means that won’t work.”
There was some confusion over the exact location of the kidnapping.
Laurent Fabius, France’s foreign minister, said it took place in Nioro, a town just across the border from Mauritania.
However, a Malian police official said armed men kidnapped the Frenchman in the town of Diema, about 100km to the south, on the way to Bamako, the Malian capital.
Fabius reiterated a warning to French people not to travel to the region and said that Paris, along with Bamako, were exerting their utmost efforts to free the latest hostage.