The wife and children of a French Islamist arrested in northern Mali have been "evacuated" to Paris, Malian airport and security sources told AFP on Thursday.
Gilles Le Guen, 58, who goes by the name Abdel Jelil, was arrested by French forces near Timbuktu overnight Sunday and is being questioned in Mali's northeastern city of Gao.
"Shortly after the arrest of Gilles Le Guen, who was with his family, his wife and five children -- two girls and three boys -- were evacuated to Paris," the security source said.
Le Guen's wife, who is from the Maghreb region of northwest Africa, and the children boarded a plane to Paris from the Malian capital Bamako "in recent days", the source at the city's airport said.
"The trip was given the green light by French consular authorities," she told AFP.
Le Guen is to be transferred to Bamako on Thursday or Friday, the security source said.
The Frenchman is believed to have joined the north African militant organisation Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) after moving to Mali with his family following previous stints living in Morocco and Mauritania.
In October, Le Guen appeared in Islamic dress with a gun at his side in a video on a Mauritanian website in which he warned France, the United States and the United Nations against military intervention in Mali to drive Islamists from the country's vast desert north.
France went on to launch and lead an operation in January to halt an advance by extremists on Bamako and drive them from Mali's northern cities.
Le Guen was held prisoner by AQIM for several days in November 2012 and some sources say the group believed he was a spy while others say AQIM picked him up after he intervened to stop Islamists from mistreating women.
His mother, who did not wish to be named, told AFP she did not think he had done "anything reprehensible."
"He was in contact with people who did reprehensible things, but he is good," added the mother.
She was "greatly surprised" to see her son in the video and told of his love for Africa and animals.
"He wanted to raise animals, goats and camels," she said.