France joined Mauritania strike on Al Qaeda

France said Friday it had given technical and logistical support to a Mauritanian military operation against al Qaeda’s North African wing after receiving no sign that a French citizen held by the group was still alive.

“The terrorist group targeted by the Mauritanian army is the one that executed a British hostage a year ago and has refused to give proof of life or engage in negotiations to release our compatriot Michel Germaneau,” the Defense Ministry said.

“(We) confirm that the French army gave technical and logistical support to a Mauritanian operation to prevent an attack by AQIM against Mauritania,” it said in a statement, using the acronym for al Qaeda’s North African section.

It did not say whether the hostage had been located or where Wednesday’s military operation took place. But it said Mauritania’s action had “neutralised” the group.

Malian officials said Thursday that the military swoop involving unidentified aircraft took place in northern Mali where a French national was believed to have been held.

Spain’s El Pais daily quoted diplomatic sources Thursday as saying French special forces had staged a dawn attack aimed at freeing Germaneau, killing six militants but finding no sign of the hostage or of the base where he was believed to be held. El Pais said French forces located the base with U.S. help.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) set a July 27 deadline next week for killing Germaneau, 78 — who was seized on April 22 in northern Niger — unless its demands for a prisoner swap were met.

AQIM gave France 15 days from July 12 to arrange an exchange and said French President Nicolas Sarkozy would be responsible for the life of Germaneau, a retired engineer who had worked in the Algerian oil sector.

He is the latest in a string of Western hostages who have fallen prey to a new tactic to secure funding used by armed groups in the region, often claiming allegiance to al Qaeda.

More here.

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