Niamey: Gunmen abducted two French nationals from a restaurant in Niamey, the capital of Niger, witnesses said.
Two armed men burst into the restaurant, Le Toulousain, in the city centre, when it was crowded with diners and forced the two men to follow them, said staff and diners.
They taken to a four-by-four vehicle bearing Benin plates in which other armed men were waiting and then driven off at speed. The incident happened between 10:30 pm and 11:30 pm (2130 and 2230 GMT).
A security source in Niger confirmed the abduction and one police source said that one of the two Frenchmen abducted had arrived that same day to attend a wedding. Another officer said police had been mobilised to try to intercept the abductors.
In Paris, a French Foreign Ministry spokesman said late Friday: "We are aware of this information, we are fully mobilised both in Paris and in Niamey to check it."
At the restaurant, staff and diners described what had happened.
"The Frenchmen tried to resist but finally they (the abductors) pushed them into the car and they drove off quickly," said one member of staff.
Witnesses said both the abductors had been wearing turbans and one customer at the restaurant said the two abductors had fair skin and had spoken Arabic.
"When they came in they fell on the two Frenchmen and they shouted, `You and you, follow us`. In their rush, one of the attackers lost his turban.”
"When they went out with the two Frenchmen I took my car and I chased them for about a kilometre, but as they were moving at great speed and with the lights out, I couldn`t catch them," he added.
Some diners said that they had seen the vehicles used by the kidnappers near the restaurant a few hours before the abduction.
France is already working to secure the release of five French hostages seized in Niger in September along with a Togolese and a Madagascan.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is believed to be holding them in neighbouring Mali.
In November, AQIM head Abdelmalek Droukdel, alias Abou Moussaab Abdelouadoud, said in the message on Al-Jazeera television that bin Laden alone could negotiate the release of the hostages
French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie rejected any suggestion that France would negotiate their freedom with Osama bin Laden and pull its troops out of Afghanistan.