Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim) has threatened to execute six French hostages if France intervenes militarily in northern Mali in a message published on a Mauritanian website. The Islamist group threatens "tragedies and catastrophes" for France and its people if France and its African allies take military action in the region.
Four of the hostages, who work for French nuclear giant Areva or for one of its subsidiaries, were kidnapped on 16 September 2010 in northern Niger. Their captors sent out a video of them alive a fortnight ago.
The other two were captured on 24 November 2011 in northern Mali.
In the latest message, which had not been authenticated by the French foreign ministry on Wednesday night, Aqim says it is ready to negotiate but that the French authorities have to make the first move.
The kidnappers tell the prisoners' families that France has failed to "correct its errors" and continues "the occupation of Islamic lands and the struggle against Islam and its people" and, instead, has "called for the invasion Muslim land in Mali".
France is a prime mover in calls for a west African military intervention in northern Mali, which has been taken over by Islamists and Tuareg separatists who know it as Azawad.
"This insane initiative will provoke not only the deaths of the hostages but will sink France in Azawad and will bring it and its people more tragedies and catastrophes", the message says.
Burkina Faso's President Blaise Compaoré, who has been involved in trying to resolve the Malian crisis, told France 24 television on Wednesday that no negotiations have taken place but that he was working with the French authorities to try and "build bridges so that a dialogue can really be opened".
A week ago President François Hollande met the hostages' families but they declared afterwards that the meeting had not calmed their fears for their loved ones' lives.
"Does this call mean that ... the kidnappers are becoming impatient?" asks RFI's website in French. "Are we to understand that they have revised their demands and that negotiations must start on a different basis?"
The Ecowas group of west African states has held further discussion on a possible military intervention in the last few days and is to be debated at the UN on 26 September.