PARIS, (Reuters) – France suspects al Qaeda’s North African wing is behind the kidnapping of seven foreigners in Niger, including five French nationals, but has received no claim of responsibility, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said.
Thursday’s abductions, which included a French employee of nuclear firm Areva and his wife, is likely to raise questions about security for mine workers in the region, where groups linked to al Qaeda’s North African wing (AQIM) operate.
“We suspect it’s the same groups … linked to the mainstream of AQIM,” Kouchner told Europe 1 radio on Friday. “Unfortunately, we have dealt with them before.”
Kouchner said there was “no certainty” as there had yet to be a claim of responsibility.
The other two people kidnapped on Thursday were citizens of Madagascar and Togo, according to the Nigerien government.
President Nicolas Sarkozy held emergency security talks with the prime minister, interior minister and armed forces chief on Thursday evening to decide what measures France would take.
France has said it is at war with the group and pledged further military support to countries in the region after Islamists said in July they had executed a French citizen they were holding when a French-Mauritanian raid failed to free him.
The Arlit region of northern Niger, where Areva has its uranium mining operations, was also the location of a simmering Tuareg rebellion, though attacks have died off since fighting eased last year. In June 2008, four French workers for Areva were kidnapped by the Tuaregs and held for four days.