A 78-year-old ailing French aid worker was executed "in cold blood" by al-Qaida's North African branch three months after his capture, in retaliation for a failed rescue attempt that killed six militants, President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Monday.
The French leader condemned the killing of Michel Germaneau and said the killers "will not go unpunished."
Sarkozy made the announcement after convening an urgent meeting of key ministers and military officials at the presidential Elysee Palace, a day after al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb announced Germaneau's execution and said Sarkozy had "opened the doors of hell."
Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or North Africa, is an affiliate of the original al-Qaida group. It grew out of an Islamist insurgency movement in Algeria, formally merging with al-Qaida in 2006 and spreading its tentacles through the Sahel region.
Amid increasing concerns about terrorism and trafficking in northwest Africa, four countries -- Algeria, Mauritania, Mali and Niger -- opened a joint military headquarters deep in the desert in April. The goal has been to establish a collective response to threats from traffickers and the al-Qaida offshoot.
The United States is also trying to help and has provided US-run training sessions for African troops in the area.