AQIM demands Afghan withdrawal in return for French hostages

DUBAI Thu Nov 18, 2010 5:28pm EST

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DUBAI (Reuters) - The leader of al Qaeda's North African wing demanded the withdrawal of French forces from Afghanistan in return for the safety of French nationals kidnapped in Niger, al Jazeera TV reported on Thursday.

The leader of the North African wing of Al Qaeda, Abdelmalek Droukdel, also said that any negotiations over the release of the hostages should be carried out directly with al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Al Jazeera said Droukdel made his comments in an audio tape.

"The emir of AQIM said that any future negotiations over the French hostages should take place with Osama bin Laden," al Jazeera reported.

Five French nationals and two Africans were kidnapped in Niger on September 16.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) offered last month to release the employees of French companies Areva and Vinci in exchange for a repeal of the ban on the face veil in France, the release of militants and 7 million euros ($9.88 million), according to a report by al Arabiya television.

Bin Laden had said in an audio tape also aired on al Jazeera last month that the kidnapping was prompted by France's unjust treatment of Muslims.

(Reporting by Raissa Kasolowsky, writing by Reed Stevenson)

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