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Originally published Friday, February 8, 2013 at 1:04 AM

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US envoy says France ransoms fed Africa's al-Qaida

The former American ambassador to Mali says France paid $17 million in ransoms to free French hostages and that the money ended up in the hands of the same al-Qaida militants the country is fighting now.

The Associated Press

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PARIS —

The former American ambassador to Mali says France paid $17 million in ransoms to free French hostages and that the money ended up in the hands of the same al-Qaida militants the country is fighting now.

In an interview that aired Friday on iTele, Vicki Huddleston said the money allowed al-Qaida's North Africa branch to flourish in Mali.

Claude Gueant, who was French President Nicolas Sarkozy's chief of staff at the time, on Friday denied that France had ever paid a ransom and said intermediaries had been negotiating to free the hostages.

France launched a military operation on Jan. 11 to help Mali's government wrest control from Islamic extremists linked to al-Qaida. The retreating rebels are holding Western hostages, including eight who are French.

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