Hostages linked to Afghan withdrawal

John Irish
Saturday 20 November 2010 01:00 GMT

France said it would not allow outsiders to dictate its foreign policy after the head of al Qa'ida's North African wing demanded the withdrawal of French forces from Afghanistan.

Abdelmalek Droukdel, the leader of al Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), said in a message reported by the Qatari television station Al-Jazeera that Paris should withdraw its troops if it wanted the safe release of five French nationals held hostage by AQIM.

Mr Droukdel also said that any negotiations over the release of the hostages, who are being held in Mali, should be carried out directly with al Qa'ida's leader, Osama bin Laden, a first for the group, which has previously negotiated directly and not referred to bin Laden.

"France will not accept that its policy is dictated to from outside by anybody," the newly appointed Foreign Minister, Michele Alliot-Marie, said in a statement, without making a direct reference to the message.

A spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry said the recording was in the process of being authenticated and that Paris was doing its utmost to secure the release of the hostages. The government has said that it has not received any demands from AQIM in relation to the hostages, who were kidnapped in Niger in September.

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