Paris, France (CNN) -- France is "ready to discuss" the release of French nationals kidnapped in Niger earlier this month, according to a spokesman from President Nicolas Sarkozy's office Sunday.
Seven people linked with the French nuclear reactor builder Areva were seized in the town of Arlit on September 16. The group included an Areva employee and his wife, along with five subcontractors who worked for the French construction firm Vinci. Five of the group are French nationals.
A message from al Qaeda in Maghreb, the terror movement's affiliate in North Africa, claimed responsibility for the abductions. "Despite the high military preparations in the area and the security belt around it, those lions of Islam were able to break in and kidnap five nuclear experts who work for Areva," the message read. "So we claim our responsibility to this blessed operation, and we tell the French government that our fighters will deliver their lawful demands to them."
CNN was not able to verify the authenticity of that message.
Officials for Areva and Vinci say they have beefed up security measures for their employees in the area and are working closely with both Niger and French authorities to secure the release of the hostages.
Areva has been mining uranium for the past four decades in Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world.
French director Michel Germaneau was abducted in Niger and executed in July in nearby Mauritania. A video showed Germaneau's photo along with images of the French flag and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb's black-and-white flag.