CAIRO—A leader of al-Qaida’s North Africa branch said Thursday that future negotiations over the fate of five French hostages snatched from an African mining town must be conducted with terror network leader Osama bin Laden himself.
In an audio excerpt broadcast by the Al-Jazeera news channel, Abu Mossab Abdelouadoud said that to ensure the safety of the hostages, French troops must also withdraw from Afghanistan.
“Any negotiations must be done with Osama bin Laden and according to his conditions,” said a voice described as that of Abdelouadoud, one of the group’s top leaders.
The French government had said previously it was willing to speak to the group’s North African wing in order to find a solution to the crisis.
The message gave no details on how the bin Laden, who is believed to be hiding in the mountains somewhere along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, could be contacted.
The recording comes more than two weeks after an audio message from bin Laden himself slammed the French for having troops in Afghanistan and instituting a new law banning the face-covering veil.
Abdelouadoud repeated the call for the French to withdraw from Afghanistan and cease harming Muslims.
“Unless you stop interfering in our affairs and committing your injustices to Muslims, and if you want the safety for the French people, then you should to quickly pull your forces from Afghanistan,” he said.
France currently has around 3,850 troops stationed in Afghanistan as part of the NATO forces there.
Al-Jazeera did not reveal how it came by the audio tape, but in the past it has received messages from affiliates of al-Qaida around the region.
The French hostages, as well as a Togolese and a Madagascar national were kidnapped on Sept. 16 while they were sleeping in their villas in the uranium mining town of Arlit.
Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the abductions and is believed to have taken them to neighboring Mali.
The group grew out of an Islamist insurgency movement in Algeria, merging with al-Qaida in 2006 and spreading through the Sahara and the arid Sahel region. It has increasingly been targeting French interests.
In July, the group said it executed a 78-year-old French aid worker it had taken hostage three months before. It said the killing was retaliation for the deaths of six al-Qaida members in a French-backed military operation against the group.
Also in July, the French military said it provided technical and logistical assistance to help Mauritanian forces thwart an attack by suspected al-Qaida members in northwest Africa. It said the operation left six extremists dead.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy later described that operation as a “turning point” and said France would provide training, equipment and intelligence to local troops working to fight militants in the Sahel.