PARIS, Feb. 8 (Xinhua) -- France had paid millions of U.S. dollars in a bid to release four nationals kidnapped in Niger by an Islamist group more than two years ago, a local media reported on Friday.
In an interview with the news channel i>tele, former U.S. Ambassador to Mali, Vicki J. Huddleston unveiled that French officials gave about 17 million U.S. dollars to free the four French captives, who are believed to be hidden in Mali, by al-Qaeda militants in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
"Like all the others ransoms, it was paid indirectly. It finished in the hands of the Malian government and at least a part of it returned to the Salafists," the ex-American diplomat added.
Four French hostages were abducted on Sept. 16, 2010, at Arlit region in Niger, close to Algerian borders, along with other four colleagues working for French nuclear group Areva and its sub-contractor, Vinci Satom.
French expatriates have been the targets of Islamist groups in the Sahel region in response to Paris' military commitment in Afghanistan and its military operation to oust Islamists insurgents from the northern region of Mali.
"I can not accept that there are continued threats to our citizens. We must be firm while maintaining contacts (to release hostage) ... I refuse the trade of hostages," Hollande affirmed in a previous communique.
So far, seven French nationals are in the hands of kidnappers in the region.