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France working to free hostages in Niger

By the CNN Wire Staff
This 2007 picture shows Thierry Dole, one of five French nationals kidnapped in Niger.
This 2007 picture shows Thierry Dole, one of five French nationals kidnapped in Niger.
  • Al Qaeda's North African wing reportedly claims responsibility
  • Paris considers abductions "a very serious affair"

Paris, France (CNN) -- France plans to "mobilize all of its state agencies" to free five French nationals taken hostage in Niger last week, President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Wednesday, according to his spokesman.

"The president considers this a very serious affair," spokesman Luc Chatel told reporters.

Al Qaeda's North African wing, known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, said it is responsible for last week's kidnapping of five French nationals in Niger, the Arabic-language news network Al-Jazeera reported on Tuesday.

The news agency broadcast an audio recording of a voice it identified as that of Salah Abou Mohammed, a spokesman for AQIM. CNN was not immediately able to independently confirm the report.

"Even though security was tight in the location and the security guards were many, the soldiers of Islam took control of all security and kidnapped five French nuclear experts that work at the company Areva. And we claim responsibility for this blessed operation," he said, as reported by al-Jazeera.

"And we would like to tell the French government that the mujahedeen will make their demands soon. We warn you against taking any unwise actions."

Seven people linked to a French nuclear energy company were kidnapped in the West African nation of Niger last week.

An employee of Areva and his wife were among those abducted in the northern town of Arlit, the company has said. Areva has been mining uranium for decades in Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world.

The other five were subcontractors who worked for the French construction firm Vinci, Leila Touiti, a company spokeswoman has said.

Five of the abducted are French nationals, French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero has told reporters.

It was not immediately clear Tuesday whether AQIM was also claiming responsibility for the other two hostages.