France in contact with AQIM hostage-takers

France said for the first time Wednesday that it was in touch with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb kidnappers holding French hostages in Mali.

Seven hostages — five French nationals, a Togolese and a Madagascan — were seized in a Niger uranium-mining town overnight on September 15-16.

Intelligence agents in the countries concerned believe they are being held in an area of the Sahara desert in neighbouring Mali.

Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has told France to treat the kidnapping as a warning and that a ban on the wearing of the Islamic veil in public places in France justified violence against its citizens.


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