Africa

France's Verdon and Lazarevic kidnapping: Mali arrests

Three men presented as the kidnappers of two Frenchmen snatched in Hombori north east of Mali on November 24, are shown to the press on December 12, 2011 in Bamako. Image copyright AFP
Image caption Weapons, handcuffs and communication equipment were allegedly seized from the four men

The alleged kidnappers of two Frenchmen in Mali last month have been arrested, Malian officials say.

State TV later showed three of the four arrested Malians, allegedly linked to al-Qaeda's North Africa wing.

They did not give details about the fate of the hostages, whose photos have appeared on an Islamist website.

Video footage has also emerged of three other Europeans held by suspected Islamists in the desert region.

A spokesman for the Malian presidency said the arrested men were "subcontractors" for al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim), to whom they had handed over the hostages, the Reuters news agency reports.

The French citizens, Philippe Verdon and Serge Lazarevic, were seized at gun-point at a hotel in the central town of Hombori on 23 November.

Aqim-linked fighters have in the past brought hostages into northern Mali from neighbouring countries.

State TV showed the partially obscured faces of three of the arrested men, who were allegedly in possession of weapons, handcuffs and communication equipment.

The newsreader said the government was determined to take "whatever measures necessary to protect people's safety and welfare on national territory."

Splinter group

Mr Verdon and Mr Lazarevic were said to be working for a local cement firm in Hombori, near the border with Niger, when they were kidnapped.

Aqim - which often takes Westerners hostage for ransom - accused them of working for French intelligence.

French authorities deny the allegation.

At the weekend, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said "contacts" had been made to secure the release of the hostages, but gave no further details.

Aqim has posted on an Islamist website the photographs of Mr Verdon and Mr Lazarevic, along with three other unidentified Europeans, Reuters reports.

In one image, the Frenchmen appear to have their hands tied behind their backs while in the second image the three other hostages have their hands on their knees, it reports.

The hostages are surrounded by masked gunmen, but appear to be in good health, Reuters reports.

The AFP news agency reports that it has seen video footage of an abducted Italian woman and a Spanish man and woman.

Their faces are clearly shown and they can be heard identifying themselves in their own languages, it reports.

The man's foot is bandaged and the two women are dressed in blue gowns and yellow headscarves, with masked gunmen keeping watch, the agency says.

The footage includes the name of a previously unknown group, the Jamat Tawhid Wal Jihad Fi Garbi Afriqqiya, which means the Unity Movement for Jihad in West Africa.

The group said on Saturday that it was responsible for the abductions and that it had broken away from Aqim, AFP reports.

Huge swathes of the Sahel region south of the Sahara Desert have been rendered off-limits to foreigners because of a spate of kidnappings in recent years.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites