The French government has said two of its citizens kidnapped from a restaurant in the capital Niamey in the African country of Niger have been killed during a rescue operation.
The men were kidnapped from this restaurant in Niamey
France issued a travel warning for Niger on Sunday, after two French hostages were killed, apparently by their kidnappers, during a rescue operation which included French and Nigerien security forces.
It was not immediately clear who was behind the kidnapping and killing, but officials suspect links to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a regional branch of the network.
President Nicolas Sarkozy condemned the killings as "cowardly and barbaric."
Rescue effort near Mali border
Witnesses said the men, both 25, were abducted at gunpoint by four men in turbans from a bar in the capital Niamey on Friday.
A spokesman for the French military said Nigerien forces pursued the kidnappers into the desert, backed up by French ground forces and a surveillance aircraft.
The ensuing fight near the Mali border killed "several" of the kidnappers and wounded one Nigerien and two French troops. The two Frenchmen were found dead, apparently executed by the hostage-takers.
The French nationals were the first to be seized in Niamey
One of the men was a former aid worker who was engaged to a local woman. The other was a childhood friend who had just arrived to attend the wedding ceremony next week.
France warns against travel in the Sahel
The incident led France to warn its citizens against travel in the Sahel region, with the foreign ministry website urging travelers to exercise "the greatest vigilance."
The Sahel stretches across the north of the continent and covers Niger, Mali and Mauritania. Several other French nationals have been taken hostage in the region, but the most recent incident was the first that ocurred in the capital.
Meanwhile, the fate of five French hostages seized in Niger in September, along with a Togolese and a Madagascan, remains unknown. The AQIM claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and demanded negotiations, which the French government has rejected.
Author: Andrew Bowen (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Sonia Phalnikar