PARIS, Feb. 8 (UPI) -- France paid a $17 million ransom for four of its citizens being held by Islamic militants without winning their freedom, a former U.S. ambassador to Mali said.
In an interview Thursday with the French broadcaster iTele, Vicki Huddleston said the ransom was paid indirectly, by sending it to the Malian government. But Huddleston, the ambassador to Mali from 2002-2005 who is now retired, said at least some of the money reached, France 24 reported.
The four French nationals were abducted by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb in 2010 at a uranium mine in Niger. The rebels are now believed to be holding a total of seven French hostages, including three kidnapped in Mali in 2011 and 2012.
The hostages are believed to be held in the Ifoghas mountain range of northern Mali, near the border with Algeria.
Huddleston said France and other European governments have paid a total of $89 million in ransoms after kidnappings in Mali, Radio France Internationale reported. France has now sent a military force to Mali to help the government drive out the insurgents, while Britain and the United States have provided military cargo planes to help fly troops and supplies to the restive African nation.
The French government has denied any ransom payments in the past and had not commented on Huddleston's interview Friday.