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Al Qaeda-linked group ready to negotiate freeing French hostage in Mali

media Gilberto Rodriguez Léal, a French national kidnapped in Mali. AFP / Alakhbar

An Al Qaeda-linked group who kidnapped a Frenchman last November says it is ready to negotiate his release as a French-led military offensive against Islamists gathers pace.

Gilberto Rodriguez Léal, a 61-year old French national, was kidnapped on November 20 by armed men while travelling in western Mali near the border with Senegal and Mauritania.

Dossier: War in Mali

The Movement for Openness and Jihad in West Africa, MUJAO, claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.

A MUJAO spokesman, Walid Abu Sarhaoui, told news agency AFP that MUJAO is ready to negotiate Legal’s release.

“We Muslims can come to an understanding on the issue of war,” he said.

The announcement came as a French-led campaign to drive out Islamist rebels in northern Mali entered its 16th day.

On Friday, French and Malian forces captured Hombori, another northern town in their advance on the Islamist stronghold of Gao.

West African defence chiefs are meeting on Saturday in the Ivorian capital, Abidjan, to discuss ways to send more African soldiers to Mali as soon as possible.

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