Two French nationals were kidnapped in northern Mali said the French Foreign Ministry.
“We can confirm that two French nationals were kidnapped last night in the town of Hombori, about 200 km (125 miles) west of Gao,” spokesman Bernard Valero said.
A senior Malian army official told Reuters the two men, an engineer and technician who work for a local cement firm, were abducted at about 0100 GMT from their hotel, Reuters reports.
“They do regular field trips to Hombori in the north (and were taken) by turbaned men in 4x4s,” the official said.
France has five hostages still held overseas including a member of its security services in Somalia and four in North Africa’s Sahel belt held by al-Qaeda’s north African wing.
“The two nationals had not informed the embassy or consulate of their presence,” Valero said. “We are mobilised in Paris and Mali.”
Reached by French radio RFI, the owner of the hotel where the two men were kidnapped said armed men demanded he show them the room where the two men were staying.
“They told me they hadn’t come for me but for the white men,” he said. “They told me not to shout or do anything. I showed them the room and then they tied me up. I heard one of the Frenchmen shout and I saw traces of blood.”
It was not clear who was responsible for the kidnapping, but attention will turn to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). France said in March it would not negotiate on a demand by AQIM for 90 million euros to release the remaining four French nationals it has held hostage since September 2010. The employees were among seven originally kidnapped who work for French firms Vinci and Areva.
Mali Foreign Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga could not immediately confirm the kidnapping on Thursday when contacted by Reuters. He warned in an interview in May that more coordination was needed on the ground to fight AQIM because it was becoming “a danger for our country and society.”
The increased risk of kidnappings, either by Islamists or local gunmen cooperating with them, has made large tracts of Mauritania, Mali and Niger no-go areas for westerners.
An Italian woman kidnapped in Algeria in early February is also being held by the Islamists.
Western nations led by France and the United States are trying to improve regional cooperation but efforts have been undermined by a lack of resources, regional rivalries and a degree of local complicity. Security experts say AQIM has collected millions of dollars in ransom payments.
In what appeared to be a hardening of its position, France sent special forces soldiers to try to rescue two Frenchmen kidnapped in Niger in January. The pair were killed during the operation.