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Group: France risks hostages

PARIS - An al-Qaeda-affiliated group is accusing France of endangering the lives of a half-dozen French hostages by helping to organize a military intervention in Mali instead of negotiating for the hostages' release.

The accusation, in an online video, came from Abdel Hamid Abu Zeid, a battle-hardened Algerian who leads the most active of three squads of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the terrorist group's affiliate in the Sahel region of northern Africa. Experts said the video was recorded Tuesday and put online by a Mauritanian Internet site, Sahara Medias, that is a frequent conduit for AQIM communications.

Abu Zeid's claim appeared designed to stir French public opinion against President Francois Hollande's government.

The video sought to focus attention on Hollande's determination to drive AQIM guerrillas and their allies from a vast sanctuary in northern Mali, following the passage last week by the U.N. Security Council of a French-sponsored resolution authorizing military intervention in northern Mali.

- Washington Post

Shantytown fire leads to melee

MANILA, Philippines - Angry residents beat a man to death and threw rocks at firefighters after a shantytown fire left thousands of people homeless, and another Christmas Day blaze in the Philippine capital left seven people dead, officials said Wednesday.

A resident was beaten to death by his neighbors after shouting that he started Tuesday's shantytown fire in suburban San Juan city, Senior Fire Officer Domingo Cabog said.

The man was reportedly drunk and was not responsible for the fire. Cabog said the fire started in a house where children were playing with lighted candles.

In Quezon City, another of the 16 cities that make up metropolitan Manila, a predawn fire Tuesday killed a veterinarian and six household members who were trapped inside a house, said arson investigator Rosendo Cabillan. The blaze was suspected to be triggered by an overloaded electrical circuit, he said. - AP

Fireworks blast rattles Lagos

LAGOS, Nigeria - A massive explosion ripped through a warehouse full of fireworks in Nigeria's largest city on Wednesday, sparking a fire that threatened surrounding city blocks and sending a plume of thick smoke high into the sky.

At least one person died and 15 others were wounded, emergency officials said.

The blast occurred in the Jankara area of Lagos Island, a neighborhood of narrow streets and tall concrete buildings holding shops and housing people sometimes a dozen to a room. The force of the explosion echoed miles away and shook windows.

- AP