Al-Qaida Demands France Leave Afghanistan in Return for Hostages

Five French nationals held captive in Niger in retaliation for ban on face veils.

A branch of Al-Qaida has called on the French government to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan in return for the safety of five French hostages kidnapped in Niger. The demand was made in a message broadcast by Al Jazeera late Thursday.

Osama Bin Laden

"If you want the hostages to be safe, then you should quickly withdraw your forces from Afghanistan according to a set timetable that you will announce publicly," said Abu Musab Abdel-Wadoud, the leader of Al-Qaida's North African wing, in the message.

Abdel-Wadoud also said that any negotiations over the release of the hostages should be carried out directly with Al-Qaida's leader, Osama bin Laden, according to Al Jazeera's website.

Five French nationals and two Africans were kidnapped in Niger in September.

Last month bin Laden reportedly said in an audio tape that France's "injustice" towards Muslims and a recent ban on face veils were the motivation behind the abduction.

French troops in North Africa are working with local governments to combat militant groups, including Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the local offshoot of the global terrorist organisation.

AQIM claimed responsibility for the killing in July of Michel Germaneau, a 78-year-old Frenchmen who was being held hostage.