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Al-Qa'ida kills 78-year-old French aid worker hostage in Sahara

An ageing, and ailing, French aid worker has been "murdered in cold blood" by al-Qa'ida fighters in the Sahara desert, President Nicolas Sarkozy announced yesterday.

Michel Germaneau, 78, who was kidnapped in April while working for a children's charity in Niger, is believed to have been killed by the same group that murdered the British hostage Edwin Dyer in May last year.

In a recording broadcast on Sunday by the al-Jazeera TV network, the leader of "al-Qa'ida in the Maghreb", Abou Moussab Abdel Wadou, said that the retired oil engineer had been killed in "revenge" for the death of six of his men in a Mauritanian government raid on a camp just inside Mali last week, in which French forces were involved.

"Sarkozy failed to free his countryman but, with this operation, he has doubtless opened for himself, for his people and for his country one of the gates of hell," Wadou said.

The group, which developed from an Islamist terrorist movement in Algeria, operates in the Sahara desert, crossing borders at will. It had warned that Mr Germaneau would be killed unless its jailed members were released by yesterday.

The Socialist mayor of Mr Germaneau's home town said yesterday that there were "shadowy" areas that must be cleared up. Olivier Thomas, mayor of Marcoussis, south of Paris, said: "Has there been a change of approach by France when its citizens are taken hostage? [Before now] I can't remember a French hostage being executed for an extremely long time."

In a televised statement, Mr Sarkozy said that Paris could confirm that Mr Germaneau was dead. His killers "will not go unpunished", he said.

The President said that France had participated in the Mauritanian raid because it was "convinced that [Mr Germaneau] was condemned to a certain death". His captors were refusing to supply him with the medicine he needed for his heart condition.

"We had the duty to make this effort to pull him free from his captors," said Mr Sarkozy. "Unfortunately, Michel Germaneau wasn't there ... I condemn this barbaric act, this odious act against an innocent victim who spent his time helping the local populations."

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