Hostages found dead at the Niger-Mali border after French troops clashed with kidnappers.Two French hostages kidnapped in the Niger capital were killed by their captors despite a rescue attempt by French forces, President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a statement.
The hostages were found dead at the Niger-Mali border after French troops clashed with the kidnappers, killing several of them, a statement from defence minister Alain Juppe said yesterday.
Sarkozy condemned the killings as a "cowardly and barbaric act."
The two French victims, who have not been identified, were kidnapped by four armed men while dining at a restaurant on Friday night in the Niger capital, Niamey.
No one has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and it was unclear whether the al-Qaida offshoot, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, was responsible.
Five other French hostages kidnapped in Niger in September by AQIM are thought to be held in Mali.
Last July, French troops joined Mauritanian troops in a raid against an AQIM base in Mali. Soon after, the captors announced they had killed a 78-year-old French aid worker they were holding and said that Sarkozy, by intervening with French troops, had "opened the doors of hell."The vast Sahel desert region, which spans portions of Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Algeria, is where militant groups with ties to al-Qaida are operating. The four countries have set up a joint operation to go after militants with links to al-Qaida. The United States has provided training for the local troops.
Sarkozy had said earlier that the captors were apparently heading to Mali, considered a zone of refuge, and a unit of the Niger national guard immediately pursued the kidnappers.The defence minister's statement did not specify what role the Niger national guard played in the clash or say who ultimately killed the hostages.
The statement from Sarkozy, however, was clearly worded to remove any suggestion they could have been struck by stray fire.
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