French hostages in West Africa

PARIS (Reuters) - Two French journalists were killed in the northern Mali town of Kidal on Saturday after being taken hostage by armed gunmen, bringing to three the number of French citizens killed in the country since Paris intervened militarily in its former colony in January.

The deaths came just days after four French hostages kidnapped in Niger by al Qaeda's north African (AQIM) wing were released following secret talks with officials from the West African country. They had been held for three years.

Paris launched air strikes and sent hundreds of soldiers into Niger's neighbor Mali at the start of the year to drive back al Qaeda-linked rebels it said could turn the West African country into a base for international attacks.

The insurgents have threatened to hit French targets across the Sahel region in revenge. Paris still has about 3,000 troops in Mali and has seven citizens still captive abroad, four are in Syria, two in the Sahel, and one in Nigeria.

Below is a list of hostage incidents involving French citizens in West Africa.

* Four Frenchmen held hostage in the Sahara desert by al Qaeda-linked gunmen for three years were reunited with their families on Oct 30. Paris dismissed media reports it had paid as much as $20 million ransom for their release.

* Francis Collomp, an engineer who was working for French renewable energy firm Vergnet in Nigeria, appeared in a video on September 28 for the first time since being kidnapped in December 2012 by the Nigerian Islamist group Ansaru. The militants said Collomp had been taken in retaliation for France's imminent military action against jihadi insurgents in nearby Mali.

* France confirmed on July 15 that a body found in northern Mali was that of the French geologist Philippe Verdon, taken hostage in November 2011. AQIM previously announced he had been beheaded in March.

* Armed men on motorcycles snatched a French family of seven including four young children on February 19 while they were on holiday near the Waza national park in north Cameroon. The hostages were released in Mid-April. According to a confidential Nigerian government report obtained by Reuters the family was freed by the Nigerian Islamist sect Boko Haram after it was paid an equivalent of around $3.15 million by French and Cameroonian negotiators.

* Two French nationals were found dead on Jan 8 2011, apparently executed by their kidnappers, after French special forces joined a failed attempt to rescue them in the African state of Niger.

(Reporting By John Irish; editing by Barry Moody)