The video appeared in Mauritania at an opportune moment, just as the French Foreign Ministry’s Special Envoy for the Sahel, Jean Felix-Paganon, arrived in Nouakchott. I hope he and the French authorities take the hostages’ messages to heart, especially the part where they beg them not to mount an attack and to continue negotiations. Perhaps they have heard about the deaths of other hostages during “rescue” attempts. If so, they have good reason to be equally afraid of a bungled rescue as of being killed by their captors.
AFP notes that the four were among seven people kidnapped from the uranium mining town of Arlit in northern Niger in September 2010 by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) while working for Satom, a subsidiary of the French nuclear group Areva.
Three of them — a Togolese and a Madagascan and Larribe’s wife Francoise — were released the following February.
Legrand’s grandfather Rene Robert told AFP after seeing the video that he and other relatives of the hostages had identified them.
“The hostages are tired, and even exhausted, but they are alive,” he said.
Sources say that AQIM has demanded 90 million euros in ransom for the four, who in recordings released in April last year urged then French president Nicolas Sarkozy to withdraw French troops from Afghanistan in line with an AQMI demand.
Under Sarkozy’s successor Francois Hollande, Paris has speeded up the withdrawal with 2,000 combat troops to be pulled out by the end of the year.
Two Frenchmen were also kidnapped last November by AQIM in Mali’s northern town of Hombori, where they were working as geologists for a Malian company.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the hostages were not being held together.