French Aid Worker Kidnapped From Mali Hotel

Armed men kidnapped a French humanitarian aid worker from his hotel in northern Mali overnight, in a region where Islamists from Al Qaeda's North Africa branch have been active, officials said Thursday.

The French Foreign Ministry confirmed the kidnapping, and urged French citizens to be extra vigilant while traveling outside the Malian capital, Bamako. It did not provide further details.

The man was kidnapped from a hotel in the town of Menaka, located about 955 miles from the capital, near Mali's border with Niger, said Alwaadhat Ag Saratout, a local leader in the town.

He said the Frenchman was a humanitarian worker who had been in Menaka since April. Guards near the man's hotel heard cries, and the owner of the hotel informed local police immediately, the official said.

Tuareg rebels and Al Qaeda in Islamic North Africa have been active in the area.

The Islamist group operates mainly in Algeria but is suspected of crossing the country's porous desert borders to spread violence in the rest of northwestern Africa.

The group claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of two U.N. staffers in December, and the kidnapping of four European tourists a month later. One of the four Europeans, a Briton, was killed by his captors. The U.N. staffers and the other tourists were released.

The U.S. announced last month it is providing security forces in the West African nation with more than $5 million in new vehicles and other equipment, three months after the Islamist group claimed it killed 28 Malian soldiers.