The assassination of a 78-year-old French engineer taken hostage in Niger and killed by al Qaeda's North African wing has been harshly criticized by the EU and the US.
A recording shown on Al Jazeera TV confirmed Germaneau's death
The European Union on Monday condemned the "foul assassination" of Michel Germaneau, a French hostage held by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the North African arm of the terrorist organization.
"The deterioration in the situation in the Sahel-Saharan strip constitutes a growing security issue for this region at the gateway to Europe," a statement by EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels said.
The US echoed that sentiment by calling the killing a "heinous and cowardly act."
"We stand ready to assist the French governement in any way that we can," the State Department said.
France vows to avenge murder
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has called the killing barbaric
Earlier on Monday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy confirmed that the hostage had been killed.
In a nationally televised address, Sarkozy condemned the murder of 78-year-old Germaneau as a “barbarous act” and vowed revenge. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner is expected in the area on Monday evening to check on the security situation of French nationals there.
Germaneau was kidnapped in northern Niger on April 19.
A leading member of AQIM said earlier in an audio recording aired on Al-Jazeera television that it had killed Germaneau in response to a raid by France and Mauritania. "In a rapid and just response to the ignoble actions of France, we announce that we have executed the French hostage," AQIM chief Abu Musab said.
AQIM had given France an ultimatum on Monday to help secure the release of its members in the region – and had warned that Germaneau would be executed if Paris did not comply.
Last Thursday, between 20 and 30 French soldiers were involved in the raid on a remote camp in Mali by Mauritanian forces. Six al Qaeda members were reportedly killed.
The group is also holding two Spaniards in the region after kidnapping them more than seven months ago. The Spanish government expressed its solidarity with France on Monday and vowed to continue efforts to free its citizens.
Authors: Richard Connor, Nicole Goebel (Reuters/AFP/AP)
Editor: Rob Turner