CAIRO — Al-Qaida's North Africa offshoot demanded the release of four of its members in exchange for a French hostage it kidnapped two months ago, in a message posted on militant Web sites Monday that gave a 20 day deadline.
Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb said that their only condition for the freeing of Pierre Camatte is the release of four members of the group arrested by Mali several months ago.
"We give France and Mali 20 days from the date of issuing this statement to respond to our legitimate demand otherwise the two governments will be fully responsible for the French hostage's life," it said in a statement dated Sunday.
In Paris, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Christine Fages would not comment on the al-Qaida exchange offer, citing a need for discretion in hostage cases. "Regarding our compatriot, we remain fully mobilized," Fages told an online briefing.
The militant group announced last month its kidnapping of Camatte in Mali Nov. 25 and three Spaniards in Mauritania five days later.
"We call upon the French public opinion and the hostage's family to exert pressure on the government of (French president Nicolas) Sarkozy and prevent it from committing the same folly committed by (British prime Minister) Gordon Brown toward his British citizen," it said.
The group was referring to the killing of British hostage Edwin Dyer in May 31 after Britain refused to pay ransom and the release of a radical Islamist preacher held in Britain.
Dyer was one of four European tourists – as well as two senior U.N. envoys – kidnapped last year near the Mali and Niger borders. They were likely abducted by local gunmen and then transferred to al-Qaida's group.
One of the four hostages, Werner Greiner, a Swiss, was released in July 2009 after spending six months in captivity in Mali. His wife and another German woman were freed in April 2009 together with two Canadian U.N. envoys, who had been captured separately in December, 2008.
The group has not yet set conditions for the release of the three Spaniards who had been traveling at the tail end of a convoy distributing aid to poor villages along the coast of Mauritania when they were abducted.
In its earlier statement, the group said the kidnapping was in retaliation for "the Crusaders' war against Muslims and Islam everywhere and the killing of innocent people and occupying their lands."
The authenticity of Monday's statement could not be immediately verified, but it was posted on an Islamic militant Web site that publishes statements and video footage by al-Qaida and other militant groups.
Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb operates mainly in Algeria but is suspected of crossing the country's porous desert borders to spread violence in the rest of northwestern Africa.