Nine killed in failed French hostage rescue: Prosecutor

Nine killed in failed French hostage rescue: Prosecutor

An investigation has been launched to clear up several mysteries left behind after Saturday's special forces raid, in which French troops battled hostage-takers from Al-Qaeda's North African offshoot.

Paris prosecutor Jean-Claude Marin said no suspected kidnappers were "at present" being held by authorities in Niger, despite France's Defence Minister Alain Juppe earlier having said that two captives had been handed over.

Niger has denied that it is holding any suspects, and has complained that its three gendarmes were killed by French troops. France has accused "gunmen in Niger gendarmerie uniforms" of attacking its forces.

Marin also played down rumours the two 25-year-old French hostages, Vincent Delory and Antoine de Leocour, had been specifically targeted, saying gunmen had plucked them at random from among Niamey restaurant-goers.

The pair were seized from the Restaurant Toulousain in the Niger capital on Friday -- they were sitting closest to the door, according to Marin -- and were taken in an armed militant convoy towards the Malian border.

An initial attempt by Niger security forces to block their path failed and on Saturday, after they had crossed into Mali, helicopter-borne French commandos went into action, triggering a fierce gunbattle