French journalists abducted and murdered in northern Mali

UN and France condemns deaths after kidnappers kill two journalists when they realised they could not escape military pursuit

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 November, 2013, 12:36pm
UPDATED : Monday, 04 November, 2013, 6:08am


Two French journalists kidnapped in Mali apparently were killed when their captors realised they were being pursued by French forces, according to one account by a Mali army official. The reporters, Ghislaine Dupont, 51, and Claude Verlon, 58, worked for Radio France Internationale, a French state-supported broadcaster. They had been interviewing a leader with a separatist group in the town of Kidal in Mali's troubled desert north.

Gunmen forced the reporters into a truck in the centre of town on Saturday afternoon, Colonel Didier Dacko said. Their bodies were found shortly after, with their throats slit, several miles outside Kidal in the Sahara.

French forces stationed in the town pursued the kidnappers, according to an official with the military in Kidal.

"Lots of military vehicles sped out of town," the official said. "Even helicopters." The kidnappers apparently realised that "they were not going to make it" with their hostages, at which point they killed them, the official said. They then fled into the hills surrounding Kidal, he said.

French military spokesman Colonel Gilles Jaron said a patrol was dispatched from Kidal after French forces were alerted, and two helicopters were called in from Tessalit, 130km to the north. The patrol found the bodies of the journalists east of Kidal, but French forces never made contact with the kidnappers, he said.

The kidnapping occurred less than a week after four French hostages were released by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in neighbouring Niger after being held for more than three years in the desert, and on payment of a substantial ransom, according to reports.

The man the two French journalists had been interviewing - Ambeiry Ag Rhissa, an official with the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a Tuareg separatist group - heard a strange noise outside his door immediately after they left his home, RFI reported.

He saw the journalists being forced into the truck by gunmen in turbans, and trying to resist as the kidnappers beat them with rifles, RFI said.

The gunmen were heard to be speaking in Tamashek, the language of the nomadic Tuaregs, RFI reported.

The reporters' driver "heard the two reporters protest and resist", RFI said. "It was the last time they were seen."

French president Francois Hollande has called the killings a "despicable" act and ordered an emergency ministers meeting yesterday.

The UN Security Council members also "strongly condemned" the slaying of the journalists and "reiterated their full support" for the UN mission in Mali, a statement said.

French and UN forces remain stationed in Kidal, and all of northern Mali continues to be a cauldron of instability even though the Malian government in Bamako, nearly 1,300km to the south, is nominally in control of the area.

During the eight-month occupation of northern Mali, Kidal was headquarters of another Tuareg group, Ansar al-Dine, which made common cause with the al-Qaeda-linked rebels who were defeated this year by French and Chadian soldiers.

Although it is not certain if the kidnappers were al-Qaeda affiliated or members of a Tuareg splinter group, some officials in Kidal said the ransom reportedly paid for the other French hostages "encouraged" them.

"That's the idea that's circulating in town now. All you have to do is kidnap a Westerner, and you can get millions," he said.

French news media reported last week that as much as US$34 million had been paid for the release of the four Frenchmen in Niger.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse