Al-Qaeda's North African wing claimed responsibility for kidnapping five foreigners in Mali last month, describing two of the hostages as French spies in a statement carried by Mauritania's private ANI news agency.

The agency, which has previously received statements from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and in November interviewed one of its top commanders, also showed pictures of the five men it said were snatched in Mali during two separate incidents at the end of November.

AQIM is pleased to claim the responsibility for the kidnapping on the night of November 24 in eastern Mali of two spies of the French secret service, the group said.

Doubts surfaced in France over the identity of the two French nationals, initially described as geologists who were kidnapped in the town of Hombori, close to the border with Burkina Faso. French media reported the two were known to French intelligence.

The French Foreign Ministry was not immediately available to authenticate the claim.

AQIM said it had also kidnapped three other Westerners during a second raid on November 25.

(Reporting By John Irish; Editing by Tim Pearce)