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Niger Hostage-Takers Probably Al-Qaeda, France Says

Jan. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Two French citizens killed yesterday in Niger were probably taken hostage by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQMI, according to France’s Defense Ministry.

It “seems probable” that AQMI was involved, Thierry Burkhard, a ministry spokesman, said today by telephone. No one has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, he said.

The hostages were killed by French fire during a failed rescue attempt, Al-Jazeera reported late yesterday, a claim not backed by the French Defense Ministry, which said there’s no evidence to support the allegation. AQMI, a North African branch of the international terror group al-Qaeda, in September claimed responsibility for abducting five French citizens in Niger.

“The preliminary observations on the scene show that the two were manifestly executed by the terrorists,” Burkhard said today. “Everything we have so far indicated that: the manner in which combat occurred, where our forces were positioned.”

The victims were Antoine de Leocour and Vincent Delory, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said today. De Leocour, 25, worked for a medical charity in the Central African Republic and had previously worked in Niamey, Niger, Journal du Dimanche reported. Delory, also 25, was a computer engineer at Cap Gemini SA in Toulouse, France, and had gone to Niger to be a witness at Leocour’s wedding, scheduled for Jan. 15, the newspaper said.

‘Barbaric Act’

“It’s the entire country that condemns a barbaric act,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in Guadeloupe in comments broadcast on LCI television. France “will never accept the diktat of terrorism.”

Leocour and Delory were abducted from a restaurant in Niamey late on Jan. 7 by armed attackers wearing turbans, witnesses said. The kidnappers later clashed with soldiers in the Tillabery region near the border with Mali, leaving one army officer wounded, regional governor Colonel Mahamadou Ibrahim Bagadoma said on state radio.

Following a second fight near the border, involving a combination of forces from Niger and French soldiers, the two hostages were found dead, French Defense Minister Alain Juppe said in a statement.

Two French soldiers were injured in the clash and “several terrorists” were killed or wounded, Burkhard said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alan Katz in Paris at akatz5@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Melissa Pozsgay at mpozsgay@bloomberg.net.

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