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.

Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
News
news
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Extras
indybest
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup