BAMAKO, Mali, Sept. 23 (UPI) -- French Defense Minister Herve Morin said he believes seven people taken hostage in northern Niger by a militant group with ties to al-Qaida are alive.
But al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb has warned French officials not to use military force to try to free them, Radio France Internationale reported Thursday. The kidnappings are "retaliation" against the United States, the insurgent group said on a Web site.
The seven, including five French citizens, were taken hostage Sept. 16 at a uranium field in the African nation of Niger, and are now believed to be in Mali, the report said.
French troops are in Niger and are prepared to recover the hostages, Radio France Internationale reported. Morin said there is "reason to believe the hostages are alive." French President Nicolas Sarkozy did not rule out using the military in recovery efforts.
In an unrelated incident, five people, including three French citizens, were kidnapped from an oil-services ship off the coast of Nigeria Wednesday, CNN reported.
No one has claimed responsibility for that incident, but a rebel group claims to know the whereabouts of the hostages, the report said.
"The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta can confirm that it has located the three abducted French nationals and another individual abducted in a separate incident on the same night," the group said in a statement.
The rebel group is trying to gain the release of those hostages, CNN said.