Bin Laden links fate of French hostages to Afghan pullout

"We repeat the same message to you: The release of your prisoners in the hands of our brothers is linked to the withdrawal of your soldiers from our country," said the speaker on the audiotape broadcast on Al-Jazeera television.

The satellite channel said bin Laden was referring to two French journalists held in Afghanistan, although he did not specify if it also covered France's hostages seized in Africa.

The foreign ministry in Paris reacted swiftly, stressing that it would not bow to such threats."We are determined to pursue our action in favour of the Afghan people with our allies" in the NATO-led ISAF force that is fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, ministry spokesman Bernard Valero told reporters in Paris.

Cameraman Stephane Taponier and reporter Herve Ghesquiere, who work for France 3 public television, were seized along with three Afghan colleagues in December 2009 in the mountainous and unstable Kapisa province, east of Kabul.

The Al-Qaeda chief, addressing the French people, said: "The refusal of your president to withdraw from Afghanistan is the result of his obedience of America, and this refusal is a green light to kill your prisoners ...

"But we will not do this at a timing that suits him," he said, adding the warning that French President Nicolas Sarkozy's stand would "cost him and you a high price on different fronts, inside and outside France."

Bin Laden, in the tape whose authenticity was not immediately possible to determine, warned in a mocking tone that Paris "with its debt and budget deficit does not need new fronts."

France 3 revealed in December that a new video which the kidnappers made a month earlier of the kidnapped journalists had been released to French authorities, although not made public.

Taponier's parents were shown the film at the foreign ministry in Paris and said afterwards that the two hostages appealed in the video to their government for help and looked thin but in good shape.

The French government has said securing the release of the journalists was an "absolute priority."

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