French hostage of Nigerian Islamists pleads for help in video

DUBAI/ABUJA (Reuters) - A French hostage kidnapped by Islamist militants in Nigeria has asked for French and Nigerian government help in securing his release in a video released by his captors, according to the SITE web monitoring service.

If the video is confirmed as authentic it would be the first visual sign of life from Mr Francis Collomp since around 30 gunmen stormed his compound on Dec 19 in the remote northern Nigerian town of Rimi, close to the Niger border where Al-Qaeda's North African wing operates.

Western governments are increasingly concerned about Islamist militants in Africa's Sahel region because of the risk it could become a platform for international jihadist attacks.

Ansaru militants said soon after Mr Collomp's abduction that he had been taken in retaliation for France's planned military action against jihadi insurgents in nearby Mali, launched a month later, and its ban on wearing the full-face veil.

Mr Collomp, 63, an engineer who was working for French renewable energy company Vergnet, appeared in the three-minute video posted on a jihadi forum which he said was filmed on Sept 25.

"It is urgent that my family and friends and my fellow citizens of France and anyone else that can do something. The French and the Nigerian governments should (get involved) for my sake and (pursue) negotiations for my safe release, please," Mr Collomp, wearing a white T-shirt with an unidentified armed man stood behind him, said in the video, speaking in English.

An Arabic-language message displayed at the end of the video said, according to SITE: "If you want to repeat your crazy ways in dealing with the events with excessive violence, then we will deal with you... Everything that happened to this French hostage is on you." The message contained no clear demands.

A spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry said the video was being analysed and it had informed the Collomp family.

Britain has put Ansaru on its official "terrorist group" list, saying it is aligned with Al-Qaeda and was behind the kidnapping of a British and a Italian who were killed last year during a failed rescue attempt.

Ansaru's full name is Jama'atu Ansarul Musilimina Fi Biladis Sudan, which roughly translates as "Vanguards for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa".

The group claimed responsibility for a dawn raid on a major police station in the Nigerian capital Abuja in November, where it said hundreds of prisoners were released.

It is thought to have loose ties to the better-known Islamist militant sect Boko Haram, which has killed thousands in a four-year-long insurgency focused mostly on Nigerian security forces, religious targets and politicians.

Boko Haram and splinter groups like Ansaru pose the biggest security threat in Africa's second-biggest economy and top oil exporter, a major supplier to the Europe, Brazil and India.

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