PARIS (Reuters) - Al Qaeda’s north African arm, AQIM, has issued a video of a French national and a Dutch national they are holding hostage in which the two men urge their respective governments to negotiate for their release.
The video, posted on a popular jihadi forum by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s media branch, is divided into two scenes showing each hostage in a different location.
The first shows Frenchman Serge Lazarevic, who has been held in the Sahara for almost three years since being kidnapped in Mali, wearing a black turban and sitting in the passenger seat of what appears to be a 4x4.
“I am very sick, my kidneys hurt and I am suffering from very high blood pressure.... I fear my life is in danger since the French intervention in Iraq.
“I ask you Mr. President (Francois Hollande) to do everything to free me because you are responsible for everything that will happen to me,” he said, ending his statement with a message to his family.
The French president’s office said in a statement that the video had been authenticated by intelligence services.
“It is a recent proof of life that we had been expecting for a long time,” the statement read, adding that the president was in touch with regional countries to use all forms of dialogue to release the hostage.
The last public proof of life for Lazarevic was in June. Philippe Verdon, another Frenchman kidnapped alongside Lazarevic, was killed by his captors in northern Mali.
The second segment shows Dutch national Sjaak Rijke, who was taken by force from a restaurant in Timbuktu in November 2011 during a trip across the Sahara.
“Today’s date is 26th Sept. 2014... it is now more than 1,000 days since my captivity in the Sahara,” said Rijke, who was wearing a white shirt with a grey sheet hiding the background.
“I’m suffering from serious back problems and I’m not well emotionally. I hold my government responsible for any harm that comes to me. Please help me.”
Reuters could not independently verify the footage of Rijke.
Neither man relayed any specific demands by AQIM, but they both alluded to the release of an American soldier in May in return for five high-profile Afghan inmates held by the U.S. military in Guantanamo Bay.
France launched an intervention against al Qaeda-linked militants in its former colony Mali in January 2013 and has since created a 3,000-strong counter-insurgency force to track down Islamist militants, including AQIM, in the desert spanning from Mauritania in the East and southern Libya in the West.
Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Howard Goller