Islamists used hostage payoffs from Nicolas Sarkozy's government to fund Mali raids

Ex-US ambassador claims former president paid out €89m to Saharan criminal gangs

A former US ambassador to Mali, has claimed Nicolas Sarkozy’s government paid $17m (£11m) to free French hostages seized from a uranium mine in its former colony, Niger, in 2010.

Vicki Huddleston, who has now retired, said under Mr Sarkozy, France paid out as much as $89m  (£56m) in ransoms to Saharan criminal gangs and Islamist groups – money which experts said fuelled the rise of the Jihadi organisations which later overran northern Mali.

“About two years ago... the AQIM [al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb] took French hostages at the yellowcake uranium mine in northern Niger, and France paid ransoms for the release of these hostages,” she told France’s iTele station in an interview aired yesterday.

The payments were made indirectly, she said, through the Malian government in a procedure that may have helped to fuel the epic corruption that has dogged the country.

When questioned about the ransom claims after the EU summit in Brussels last night, President François Hollande said he could not comment on the actions of “previous administrations” but stressed France’s present policy was to refuse negotiations with terrorists

Yesterday also saw the first suicide bomb attack in Mali since France’s military intervention last month, prompting fears that a second phase of the war has begun in the chaotic West African nation. Yesterday’s blast near the northern city of Gao came as two factions in the Malian army opened fire on each other in the capital, Bamako, underlining how far the country is from a stable solution to its year of crises.

A suicide bomber on a motorcycle detonated himself at an army checkpoint in Gao but succeeded only in killing himself. In Bamako, five civilians, including three children were wounded when soldiers linked to last year’s military coup stormed the barracks of the presidential guard. The skirmish has added to international concerns that the Malian army is in no shape to confront the Islamist threat without outside military support.

Meanwhile hopes some of the foreign hostages being held by al Qa’ida-linked militants may have survived the opening phase of the conflict were raised when the deputy mayor of Timbuktu said some of them may have been held in the desert city until recently.

A South African man with a British passport, seven French citizens, a Swede and a Dutchman have all been kidnapped in this part of the Sahara in recent years. It is not known which of the hostages may have been seen.

Witnesses in the recently liberated city said an unknown number of hostages were held in the Timbuktu house of Abou Zeid, the feared commander of AQIM and the leading figure to impose a harsh form of Sharia law in northern Mali. The Islamists were driven out of the city last month by French forces who have since secured most of the major towns in the north of the country.

“In the last few days, the hostages were in that house with Abou Zeid,” said Diadie Hamadoun Maiga told Reuters. The deputy mayor sat with Abou Zeid on Timbuktu’s crisis committee, a body set up to liaise between previous civilian authorities and the new  Islamist rulers during the 10-month occupation.

Two other witnesses said that several Western-looking hostages were kept in the militant leader’s walled compound in Timbuktu. Previous hostages, including Canadian diplomat Robert Fowler, confirmed the AQIM commander takes a personal role in the foreign hostages.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
newsMinistry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
scienceFeed someone a big omelette, and they may give twice as much, thanks to a compound in the eggs
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links