France has dispatched 80 troops to the Niger capital Niamey following the abduction of seven people including five French nationals, diplomatic and security sources said Monday.
The troops have set up a base in the capital and are working in five teams with a mission to find the seven hostages, the sources said.
They have French Breguet-Atlantique reconnaissance planes at their disposal.
“They have already carried out 21 hours of reconnaissance flights in the area in an effort to locate the hostages,” a source said.
The seven were kidnapped on Thursday from their homes in Arlit in northern Niger by suspected Al Qaeda-linked gunmen, or Tuareg bandits who may have planned to sell them on to the Islamists.
They are five French nationals, including a married couple, one Togolese and one Madagascan. All worked for French companies involved in uranium mining in the Arlit region.
France has said it suspects Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim) the North African wing of Al-Qaeda, and has not ruled taking military action to free the hostages.
“France will do everything to free the hostages,” government spokesman Luc Chatel said on Sunday.
Mauritanian troops, who have operated with French support in recent months, are already in action against Aqim in northern Mali, but France says its forces are not involved for now.