Al-Qaeda branch releases pictures of abducted Westerners
NOUAKCHOTT (AFP) - Al-Qaeda's north African wing on Friday released what it said were two photographs of five Westerners they kidnapped last month to the online Mauritanian news agency ANI.
The agency, which in the past has carried statements from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM), said the group had released the photographs to support a statement issued a day earlier claiming the abductions.
One of the photos shows two of the hostages, French nationals Serge Lazarevic and Philippe Verdon, with three armed men behind them, their faces obscured by turbans.
The other shows the three others held -- a Briton, a Swede and a Dutch national -- surrounded by four armed men, their faces similarly masked.
On Thursday, AQIM released a statement saying they were behind the abductions to the ANI agency and to AFP's Rabat office, accusing the two French nationals of working for the French intelligence service.
"We will soon make our demands known to France and Mali," the statement added.
French nationals Verdon and Lazarevic were seized at gunpoint from their hotel in the town of Hombori near the border with Niger on November 24.
The next day gunmen snatched a Swede, a Dutchman and a man with dual British-South African nationality from a restaurant on Timbuktu's central square. They killed a German with them who tried to resist.