Paris: France said on Wednesday it had mobilised
its entire military, diplomatic and intelligence apparatus in
West Africa to ensure the safe return of seven hostages held
in the Sahara by Al-Qaeda militants.
In Paris, the foreign ministry said France had
authenticated a message from Al-Qaeda`s regional branch
boasting that it had carried out last week`s kidnap in Niger
of seven foreigners, including five French nationals.
"We have not received proof of life, but we have good
reasons to believe the hostages are alive," French foreign
ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said after Al-Qaeda in the
Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility.
"We are in a position to confirm the authenticity of the
claim," Nadal said, referring to a tape broadcast on the Arab
satellite network Al-Jazeera, in which an apparent AQIM
militant said ransom demands would follow.
Nadal said France had received no other communication,
and was not yet aware of any precise demands from the
French government spokesman Luc Chatel told reporters
that President Nicolas Sarkozy had declared at a weekly
cabinet meeting that "all the services of the state are
mobilised to obtain the freedom of the hostages."
On Thursday last week, gunmen raided at least two homes
in a "secured" part of the uranium mining town on Arlit in
northern Niger, kidnapping five French nationals and a
Togolese and a Madagascan working for French firms.