France may have indirectly helped the same Islamist militants its troops have been working to drive from Mali over the past month by providing millions in ransom money, said Vicki Huddleston, the former U.S. ambassador to Mali.
Huddleston told France's iTele TV channel that the militants have used the $17 million that it received to secure the release of five French citizens to buy weapons and get new recruits. The five were taken prisoner by Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) at a uranium mine in Niger in 2010.
"The money was handed over to the Malian government, and at least part of it was handed over to the Salafists," Huddleston said. "Everyone is pretty much aware that money has passed hands indirectly through different accounts, and it ends up in the treasury let us say of Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb."
Hostage ransom is big business for AQIM, and Huddleston told iTele that the terrorist group has received $89 million in payments.
These payments helped the militants seize control of the northern part of Mali.
The French, however, deny making the payments.
Huddleston praised the French military action in Mali because the Salafists likely would have linked up with the terrorist group Boko Haram in Nigeria had they taken over control in Mali, potentially exporting more violence.