Al-Qaeda’s north African branch said in a statement on Saturday that eight European hostages it is holding are alive and well, promising to release a new video of the five Frenchmen among them.
Earlier in the day demonstrations were held in several towns and cities in France in a show of support for four of the French hostages who have been held by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) for 1,000 days.
Thierry Dol, Daniel Larribe, Pierre Legrand and Marc Feret — mostly working for French public nuclear giant Areva and its subcontractor Satom — were kidnapped in Niger by al-Qaeda-linked militants on Sept. 16, 2010.
Francoise Larribe, wife of Daniel, was also captured, but was released in 2011.
“We would like to reassure the families and parents of the hostages of their childrens’ safety ... We will soon, God willing, air a new video showing the five French hostages,” AQIM said in a statement reproduced on several jihadist Web sites.
The fifth French hostage, Serge Lazarevic, was kidnapped in November 2011 in northeast Mali.
There were no details given of the nationalities and identities of the three other hostages mentioned in the AQIM statement.
Saturday’s demonstrations in France gathered supporters and family members in Paris, Saint-Cere, Nimes, Nantes and Orleans.
“One thousand days is unbearable, but hope remains to find them alive,” Larribe’s nephew, Aurelien Pigeat, said.
In April, French President Francois Hollande announced France would not buckle under pressure to pay ransom for hostages, saying that by applying discreet measures in such situations, France could handle them more efficiently.
Hollande yesterday said he had “every reason to believe that the hostages are alive,” and that Paris was “always seeking contacts” to free them.
“We are always seeking contacts, we have every reason to think that the hostages are alive but we must try to free them,” Hollande said during a visit to Qatar.
Hollande added that the situation was “unbearable” for the relatives of the hostages, but said that “while there is this anxiety, there is this will to free them.”
He stressed the need to do so through reliable contacts, and “not with intermediaries who put themselves forward and who we know have only come looking for benefits for themselves.”
The French president also explained his government’s silence on the hostages.
“I do not have to give updates on the hostages because, first of all, I know what it means to the families [of the hostages] and I do not want to give them false hopes or, on the other hand, signs which would be discouraging,” he said.