Al Qaeda claims kidnap of French man in Niger: TV

Thu May 6, 2010 1:49am EDT
 
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DUBAI (Reuters) - Al Qaeda's North Africa wing claimed responsibility for kidnapping a French man last month in northern Niger, Al Jazeera television said on Thursday, citing a statement by the militant group's North Africa wing.

"The group said its members managed to kidnap engineer Michel Germano in the north of Niger on the 22nd of the previous month," Al Jazeera said.

"The group asked France, and those whom it called its allies in the region, to release its jailed members."

On April 22, a Niger military source said a French tourist and his Algerian driver were kidnapped in northern Niger, near the West African country's border with Mali and Algeria.

The seizure is the latest in a string of attacks in the vast desert region, where governments have little presence and a collection of bandits, former rebels, smugglers and groups linked to al Qaeda operate.

Al Qaeda in the Islamist Maghreb (AQIM) said in the statement the retired French engineer worked in the Algerian oil sector and headed an association in Niger, Al Jazeera said.

Six Europeans were kidnapped late last year in a flurry of seizures in the region. The hostages subsequently ended up in the hands of al Qaeda's North African wing, which has stepped up its activity in the Sahara zone in recent months.

Since then, four of the hostages have been released, though two Spaniards were still being held.

Analysts say groups linked to al Qaeda have swelled their coffers from ransoms paid to release the hostages, though there is never any confirmation that money changes hands.

(Reporting by Tamara Walid; Editing by Michael Roddy)