French nationals abducted in Niger

Incident in Niamey comes as France struggles to secure release of five other citizens held by an al-Qaeda branch.




    Two French nationals have been kidnapped by armed men from a restaurant in Niger's capital.

    The armed men burst into the Toulousain restaurant in Niamey on Friday night and forced the two men to follow them, staff and diners told the AFP news agency.

    They were taken to a 4x4 vehicle with Benin plates in which other armed men were waiting and then driven off at speed.

    A security source in Niger confirmed the abduction, while a police source said that one of the two abducted men had arrived that same day to attend a wedding.

    A French foreign ministry spokesman in Paris told AFP that they were aware of the situation.

    "We are aware of this information, we are fully mobilised both in Paris and in Niamey to check it."

    It was not possible to confirm whether the incident, shortly before midnight on Friday, was conducted by the group known as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

    If it is, it will mark the first time foreigners were taken by the AQIM from the capital of an African country instead of a remote town or stretch of road, suggesting that the group is becoming bolder.

    France is already working to secure the release of five French hostages seized in Niger in September along with a Togolese and a Madagascan.

    AQIM are believed to be holding them in neighbouring Mali.

    In November, Abdelmalek Droukdel, alias Abou Moussaab Abdelouadoud, AQIM's head, said in a message on Al-Jazeera that Osama bin Laden alone could negotiate the release of the hostages.

    Michele Alliot-Marie, the French foreign minister, has rejected any suggestion that France would negotiate their freedom with bin Laden or pull its troops out of Afghanistan.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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