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Al Qaeda cell offers prisoner swap deal

Pierre Camatte was kidnapped two months ago in Mali. Pierre Camatte was kidnapped two months ago in Mali.
Associated Press / January 12, 2010

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CAIRO - Al Qaeda’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 websites yesterday that gave a 20-day deadline.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb said its 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 offer, citing a need for discretion in hostage cases.

The militant group announced last month its kidnapping of Camatte in Mali on 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 [President Nicolas] Sarkozy and prevent it from committing the same folly committed by [Prime Minister] Gordon Brown [of Britain] 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 release a radical Islamist preacher held in Britain.

Dyer was one of four European tourists - as well as two senior UN envoys - kidnapped last year near the Mali and Niger borders.

One of the four hostages, Werner Greiner, a Swiss, was released in July. His wife and another German woman were freed in April together with two Canadian UN envoys, who had been captured separately in December 2008.