The leader of al Qaeda’s North African wing said in an audio recording the group had been negotiating the release of a hostage it executed last month, contradicting French officials who had said there were no talks.
Michel Germaneau, 78, was killed after a raid in the Sahara desert involving French troops failed to free him. France said it launched the raid because his captors had given no proof he was alive and did not engage in talks on his release.
In an audio recording posted on radical Islamist forums, Abdelmalek Droudkel, the leader of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb — also known by the nom de guerre Abu Musab Abdul-Wadud, contested the French account, Reuters reports.
“France’s president launched a cowardly military action while negotiations were under way to release Michel Germaneau,” said the voice on the recording.
The recording’s authenticity could not be independently verified but the voice was the same as in previous recordings issued by Droudkel.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has promised to punish Germaneau’s killers and Prime Minister Francois Fillon said last week that France was at war with al Qaeda’s north African branch.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has denied there is any increased threat of militant violence in France following the raid and the hostage’s execution.