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French national taken by ISIS-linked group in Algeria, video confirmed authentic

Reuters | Tuesday, Sep 23, 2014

An image grab taken from a video released by Jund al-Khilifa group viao YouTube on Sept 22, 2014, allegedly shows French tourist, Herve Pierre Gourdel (centre), sitting between two armed jihadists at an undisclosed location.

PARIS/ALGIERS - A French national was kidnapped in eastern Algeria on Sunday, France's foreign ministry said, and his kidnappers issued a video threatening to kill him if Paris did not halt its intervention in Iraq.

The Caliphate Soldiers, a group linked to Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants, published a video on the Internet soon after the French ministry's announcement on Monday, claiming responsibility for the kidnapping and showing a man who identified himself as Herve Gourdel, 55, from Nice in southern France.

The group said it would kill Gourdel if Paris did not halt its intervention in Iraq.

The French foreign ministry later confirmed the video was authentic.

The kidnapping came just hours after ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani urged the group's followers to attack citizens of the United States, France and other countries which have joined a coalition to destroy the radical group.

"A French national was kidnapped on Sunday in Algeria, in the region of Tizi Ouzou, while he was on holiday there," deputy Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexandre Georgini said in a statement.

Citing an interior ministry statement, Algeria's state news agency APS said the Frenchman, who it described as a mountain guide, had been taken in the village of Ait Ouabane when he was travelling in a vehicle with some Algerian nationals.

France, which on Monday raised the threat level at 30 of its embassies across the Middle East and Africa, launched its first air strikes targeting ISIS targets in Iraq on Friday. It has said all must be done to rid the region of the group.

President Francois Hollande said in a statement he had spoken to Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal and that the two countries were cooperating to at all levels to find and liberate the hostage.

Western diplomats and intelligence sources say they believe there are less than 10 hostages still held by ISIS. The group has recently killed two Americans, James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and one Briton, David Haines, and threatened to kill another Briton, Alan Henning.

The kidnapping was one of the first abductions of a foreigner by militants in Algeria since the North African country ended its decade-long war with Islamist fighters in the 1990s.

The area where the Frenchman was taken is a mountainous region which was once a stronghold for the fighters. There have been several kidnappings targeting Algerian businessmen for extortion in the area but most were freed by security forces.

Al Qaeda's North Africa branch, AQIM, and other groups are still active in Algeria.

The four-minute video which appeared on YouTube and Islamic State Twitter accounts on Monday was entitled "A message from the Caliphate Soldiers in Algeria to the dog Hollande".

The Caliphate Soldiers said in a statement on Sept 14 it had split from AQIM and sworn loyalty to the ISIS.

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