Door open for negotiations with France on hostages

French hostages being held by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb are alive and the door is open "to find a solution", AQIM's media chief said in answers to questions posed via Twitter and published late Thursday.

The comments by Abu Abdulilah Ahmed, head of AQIM's media arm Al-Andalus Media Foundation, were made on April 1, according the US-based Site Intelligence Group, which released an English-language transcript of the open interview.

At least seven French citizens are still held hostage abroad -- all in Africa -- after the release on Friday of seven members of a French family who were kidnapped in Cameroon in February.

The abductions are all claimed by Islamist groups, with among their number, at least six by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in the Sahel, the semi-arid belt south of the Sahara desert that stretches across a swathe of western Africa.

"We from our side didn't close the door of negotiations, and the French government bears the full responsibility for any harm that affects its subjects," said Ahmed in answer to a tweet.

But "the hostages are still alive, and we don't have their health status in detail," he said, while however confirming previous announcements by his group that an eighth hostage, Frenchman Philippe Verdon, kidnapped from a hotel in northeastern Mali, was executed in March.

Paris has not confirmed Verdon's death but on March 28, French President Francois Hollande said that the signs are that Verdon is dead.

French and African soldiers have inflicted heavy losses since launching a military operation on January 11 to block the advance of Al Qaeda-linked insurgents on Mali's capital Bamako, with France claiming to have killed 400 rebels.

"We are with our brothers and people in Mali in one trench, until we liberate it from the crusader French occupation or perish," Ahmed said, urging attacks against French targets until France "withdraws the last soldier from the land of the Muslims".