Niger Attempt to Free French Hostages Leaves Four Soldiers Dead

Four Nigerien soldiers were killed in a failed attempt to free two French citizens abducted by unidentified gunmen, government spokesman Mahamane Laouali Dan Dah said.

The Jan. 8 raid, near the border with Mali, also left four soldiers wounded and resulted in the “almost total destruction of the enemy,” Dah said in a statement read on state radio today in the capital, Niamey. He didn’t provide further details.

The French citizens were seized at Le Toulousain restaurant in the city by abductors wearing turbans, Marie Anna Tossou, an employee, said in an interview on Jan. 8. The two were probably taken hostage by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, France’s Defense Ministry said yesterday.

The hostages were killed by French fire during a failed rescue attempt, al-Jazeera reported late yesterday, a claim not backed by the ministry, which said there’s no evidence to support the allegation. AQMI, a North African branch of the international terror group al-Qaeda, in September claimed responsibility for abducting five French citizens in Niger.

The victims were Antoine de Leocour and Vincent Delory, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said yesterday. De Leocour, 25, worked for a medical charity in the Central African Republic and had previously worked in Niamey, Journal du Dimanche reported. Delory, also 25, was a computer engineer at Cap Gemini SA in Toulouse, France, and had gone to Niger to be a witness at Leocour’s wedding, scheduled for Jan. 15, the newspaper said.

French Defense Minister Alain Juppe is expected to travel to Niamey today to meet French citizens living in Niger, the French Embassy said in an e-mailed statement. It didn’t provide further details.

–With assistance from Alan Katz in Paris. Editors: Paul Richardson, Alastair Reed.