Osama bin Laden has released a new audio tape warning that French hostages will be killed if President Nicolas Sarkozy does not withdraw his country's forces from Afghanistan.
It is thought eight French nationals are being held by Islamist radicals in various parts of the world, including five in Niger, two in Afghanistan and one in Somalia. Two more Frenchmen, Antoine de Leocour and Vincent Delory, were killed in Niger this month during a rescue attempt.
In the new tape, a voice believed to be that of Bin Laden said: "President Nicolas Sarkozy's refusal to remove his forces from Afghanistan is a green light for killing the French hostages."
Mr Sarkozy has promised to take a tough line on terror threats, even as his government has incurred the wrath of Islamic groups with perceived anti-Muslim measures, such as banning women from wearing the face-veil in public places.
In the tape, broadcast on the al-Jazeera television network, Bin Laden said: "With its debt and budget deficit France does not need new fronts."
Two French television journalists, Stephane Taponier and Herve Ghesquiere, have been held by kidnappers in Afghanistan along with three local colleagues since 2009, and their captors have previously threatened to kill them. However, a video showing them still alive was released in November.
A French foreign ministry spokesman said that, despite the warning, the country was committed to keeping its troops in Afghanistan.
"We are determined to pursue our action in favour of the Afghan people with our allies," the spokesman said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)