• France's news in English
 
app_header_v3

France paid ransoms to Al Qaeda-linked Mali foes

AFP/The Local · 8 Feb 2013, 13:22

Published: 08 Feb 2013 13:22 GMT+01:00

In an interview aired on Friday, Vicki Huddleston said France had paid $17 million to free French hostages seized from a uranium mine in its former colony Niger in 2010.

Huddleston, the US ambassador to Mali from 2002-05, said Germany, other European countries (with the exception of Britain) and Canada had also paid ransoms which have served to finance the armed Islamist groups which last year seized control of northern Mali.

She said a total of as much as $89 million could have been paid out between 2004-11, but since it was paid through intermediaries including the Malian army, it was unclear how much would have reached Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its allies.

France has never confirmed that it paid to secure the release of hostages, and it has stopped doing so since President Francois Hollande came to power last year, according to well-placed diplomatic sources.

France's policy of paying ransoms under Hollande's predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy was well documented by journalists, an open secret in diplomatic circles, and a source of friction with Algeria, Britain and the United States, all of whom opposed the policy.

Huddleston is the most senior official yet to explicitly confirm the payment of ransoms, and the first to do so on the record. "About two years ago... the AQIM took French hostages at the yellowcake uranium mine in northern Niger, and France paid ransoms for the release of these hostages," the retired career diplomat told French television station ITele.

"The alleged amount is 17 million," she said. "Of course France didn't walk over to the Salafis and say 'here is your 17 million dollars'. "The ransoms, like other ransoms, were paid indirectly, passed through the hands of the Malian government and were turned over, at least part of it, to the Salafis [Islamist extremists]."

Although France at the time denied speculation that it paid money for the release of its nationals, it was well known among diplomats, she added.

"When governments might have denied that they paid ransoms... everyone is pretty much aware that money has passed hands indirectly through different accounts and it ends in the treasury, let us say, of the AQIM."

Asked how much had been paid in ransoms between 2004 and 2011, Huddleston said: "The number I have seen is 89 million dollars, so that to me seems probably correct.

"Various European governments paid ransoms through the Malian government to obtain the release of their citizens and that allowed AQIM to grow strong, buy weapons and recruit."

Herve Ghesquiere, one of two French TV journalists held by the Taliban in Afghanistan for over a year, last year published a memoir, "547 days", which quotes Sarkozy as saying France had no problem paying ransoms.

"For me that has never been a problem. We know how to do money," Sarkozy was quoted as saying. The same book quoted Sarkozy's foreign minister Alain Juppe as saying France's intelligence agency, the DGSE, handled the negotiations.

Story continues below…

In "AQMI, l'industrie de l'enlèvement" (AQIM the kidnapping industry)", another book published last year, AFP and Radio France International reporter Serge Daniel provides detailed figures for the amounts allegedly paid by various governments.

Daniel says two French companies paid a total of 13 million euros (about $17 million) for the release of the hostages, Austria paid three million euros, Spain nine million and Canada three to five million.

The payment of ransoms in north Africa has drawn comparison with western and Saudi Arabian financing of Islamist resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

That support fueled the growth of Al-Qaeda under Osama bin Laden and the weapons that flooded into Afghanistan ended up being turned on NATO troops when the Taliban was overthrown in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

AFP/The Local (dan.macguill@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
UN praises France's suspension of burqini ban
Photo: AFP

... and says the ban had fuelled religious intolerance in France.

Opinion - French schools
Ten ways France must fix its 'failing' school system
What must France do to fix its school system? Photo: AFP

Longstanding issues in French school system have not been dealt with, argues journalist and author Peter Gumbel.

School holidays in France: The dates you need to know
Photo: AFP

It's not the sheer number of school holidays that have caused a row this time, but the dates. Here's all you need to know.

'Get nude or get lost': Nudists fight youths on French beach
Photo: maxwelld/Flickr

Rule number one on a French nudist beach: No staring.

France hopes to open new chapter in Muslim relations
Muslims hold up the French flag at a mosque in Strasbourg. Photo: AFP

Can the creation of a new Islamic foundation sow the seeds of more positive relations between France's Muslim population and the state?

France says no EU-US trade deal before Obama leaves
Photo: AFP

French president says no free trade deal between EU and US possible before Obama leaves office as a minister says Paris wants an end to negotiations.

16 things you almost certainly didn't know about France
One of the most famous roundabouts in the land of roundabouts. Photo: Amy Anderson/Flickr

Here are 16 facts from the brand new trivia book "F is for France". Did you know any of them? Be honest now.

Burqini row
Bretons bathe fully clothed as Muslim asked to leave beach
Photo: Screen shot/Ouest France

Protesters in Brittany take to the sea fully clothed after video emerges of a veil-wearing Muslim woman being asked to leave the beach in Nice, despite France's top court ruling burqini-bans are illegal.

Why expats are still happy about life in France
Photo: Dennis Jarvis/FLickr

Despite the fear over the heightened risk of terror attacks, expats are still very much content with the quality of life in France, a new survey has shown. Although there are drawbacks as well as positives.

Calais camp 'to pass 10,000' as UK warned over border
Photos: AFP

The camp's population has more than doubled since June, police say, as French politicians again call for the border deal with the UK to be torn up.

Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
Education
French schools to ramp up security with 'mock attacks'
Sponsored Article
5 reasons to try dating in Paris with The Inner Circle
Features
Where to go in France to find the best ice cream
National
Majority in France against burqinis on beaches
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
National
How to keep cool during France's heatwave
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
Society
Parisians invited to swim in the Bassin de la Villette
Society
Five tips for surviving an internship in France
Politics
Déja vu? Familiar faces in France's presidential race
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
National
Meet the man paying off burqini fines in France
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
National
Eight tips on buying wine in a French supermarket
Society
Here's how to enjoy Paris (while avoiding the heat)
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Society
Ten mistakes to avoid when dating a Frenchman
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Society
Twelve 'French' things that aren't actually French at all
'World's priciest home' on sale in French Riviera for €1 billion
Sponsored Article
Jordan Pass: your ticket to the experience of a lifetime
Lifestyle
RECIPE: How to make the tastiest ratatouille
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
National
Paris sees Europe's biggest plunge in 'liveability'
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
National
Life on the home front in rural France's 'war on terror'
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Features
Weird facts you didn't know about the French language
Society
Paris foodie event cancelled over lack of security
How to tackle six of the trickiest French verbs
National
Summer in France - 'the ideal time to find a job'
National
'Burqini bans will only divide France more'
National
French vineyards revive horse-drawn ploughs
French mayor bans Pokemon Go app from his village
2,752
jobs available