France wants to hear Al-Qaeda's demands on hostages

PARIS, Sept 23, 2010 (AFP) - France hopes to contact Al-Qaeda to hear its demands after the militant Islamist group kidnapped five French nationals in Niger last week, Defence Minister Herve Morin said Thursday.

"We have not received any proof of life, but we have every reason to think they are alive," Morin told RTL radio, adding that the five hostages and two African colleagues had probably been moved to northern Mali.

"For the moment our concern is to be able to enter in contact with Al-Qaeda, to know what the demands are, which we haven't received," he said.

"What we want is for Al-Qaeda at some point to put demands on the table," he said. "In other cases, they have negotiated."

On Thursday last week, gunmen seized five French nationals -- including a married couple -- a Togolese and a Madagascan in a raid on two houses in the uranium mining town of Arlit in the deserts of northern Niger.

Al-Qaeda's north African branch, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), has claimed responsibility for the kidnap and on Thursday warned France not to risk an attempt to use military force to rescue the hostages.

France says AQIM's claim of responsibility is genuine, and officials believe the hostages have been taken to a remote and arid range of mountains deep in the Sahara in Mali near the Algerian border.

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