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An Al Qaeda affiliate getting rich in Niger

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb says it kidnapped five Frenchmen and two Africans from a Niger uranium mine. The group appears to be cultivating revenue streams.

This undated photo provided by French nuclear manufacturer Areva shows the uranium mine of Arlit, in northern Niger.

AREVA/HO/AP

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The Saharan chapter of Al Qaeda claimed responsibility Tuesday for the abduction of five Frenchmen and two of their African colleagues working at a Uranium mine in remote Niger.

Analysts say the announcement likely means the hostages have been transferred from local mercenaries to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a flourishing militant group that evolved from an earlier movement in Algeria. Analysts expect a ransom demand will be made.

The kidnappings are just the latest crime associated with Al Qaeda affiliates in the region. In July, a French aid worker seized by AQIM in Niger was murdered during a French rescue attempt. The rescue attempt was set up with feigned ransom negotiations.

That murder may be what motivated the Spanish government to allegedly pay a ransom to secure the release of three Spanish aid workers weeks later. The group was paid between 5 and 10 million euros and also secured release of militants in exchange for the Spaniards' freedom, according to the National Committee on American Foreign Policy Vice President J. Peter Pham.

If true, AQIM may be morphing into a self-sustaining kidnap-for-ransom gang. Dr. Pham says the group may also be charging Latin American drug cartels "right-of-passage" fees for Saharan caravans of Europe-bound cocaine smugglers.

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