France’s Sarkozy “very worried” about Mali hostages


French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he was “especially worried” about a group of seven foreigners, including five French nationals, taken hostage in Niger last September.

The French government says it has yet to receive any demands from the group that claimed the hostage-taking, a subsidiary of al Qaeda operating in the desert region of North Africa (AQMI).
“I must tell you, I am especially worried about the hostages in Mali who were taken hostage by a band belonging to AQMI,” Sarkozy said during a rare live interview on French television.

The president’s language differed from his response to a question about two journalists being held in Afghanistan and recalled what he said in July, before French commandos took part in a failed operation to rescue hostage Michel Germaneau, Reuters reports.

Germaneau was killed after the attempt to free him and the French government, embarrassed by the affair, has offered few details about the status of the hostages being held in Mali or of any negotiations to free them.

France is on a heightened alert for attacks as a result of the Niger hostage-taking but also because of a speech by al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden in which he criticised the country for the first time.

Asked about the threat facing France, Sarkozy said: “The situation on the terror front is fairly preoccupying. It’s not about worrying the French people for nothing but we are being extremely vigilant.”

Earlier this month Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux announced the arrest of five suspects accused of preparing an attack in France, bringing the total of terror-related arrests to 90 for 2010.