French minister in Niger after failed raid

Jan. 10, 2011 at 2:35 PM
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PARIS, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- The French defense minister left Monday for talks with officials in the Niger government after a botched rescue attempt to free hostages, Paris said.

Two Frenchmen kidnapped by gunmen in Niger were found dead Saturday after a rescue attempt, the French government said. The two Frenchmen were abducted from a crowded restaurant in the center of Niamey, the capital of Niger, and driven away in a car.

No group claimed responsibility for the kidnapping but in recent years several Westerners have been seized in Niger by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. French Defense Minister Alain Juppe said during the weekend there was "little doubt" that AQIM was behind the latest kidnappings.

Paris defended the botched raid, saying that despite the consequences, it reflected a resolve to fight back against terrorists, the English-language news agency France 24 reports.

"This heinous crime reinforces the resolve of France to fight against terrorists and terrorism ... democracies cannot accept this," said French President Nicolas Sarkozy during the weekend.

AQIM, which went by the name Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, swore its allegiance to Osama bin Laden in 2007.

The group in July said it executed 78-year-old French hostage Michel Germeneau following a failed attempt to rescue the engineer by French and Mauritanian troops.

Bin Laden in an audio message from October, called on Paris to pull its troops from Afghanistan and stop meddling in African affairs.

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