French army kills Mali jihadist linked to journalist murders

A Getty archive image from 2016 showing French soldiers in Mali
FILE PHOTO: A Getty archive image showing French soldiers in Mali

French soldiers have killed a Malian jihadist suspected of being responsible for the kidnapping and death of two French journalists in 2013, Defence Minister Florence Parly said Friday.

Parly said French forces in the Sahel region killed “four terrorists” during an operation in northern Mali on June 5, including Bayes Ag Bakabo, the prime suspect in the deaths of RFI radio reporters Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon.

“His neutralization means the end of a long wait,” Parly said, adding that Bakabo was in the village of Aguelhok and was preparing an attack against UN peacekeeping forces when he was killed.

Dupont and Verlon, both in their 50s and veteran journalists, were seized in the flashpoint northern Malian town of Kidal in November 2013 after interviewing a separatist Tuareg leader.

Their bullet-riddled bodies were found a few hours later, with the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) group claiming the killings as revenge for France’s decision to intervene against jihadist groups in the country earlier that year.

A French investigation concluded that Bakabo, also a known drug trafficker, drove the pick-up truck used to kidnap the two journalists.

Parly expressed her “thoughts for the family and loved ones of Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon”.

The exact circumstances of their deaths have never been revealed, and relatives charge that military secrecy has hampered efforts towards that end.

In November, Agnes Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, noted that “the alleged perpetrators have been named but are yet to be arrested and prosecuted.”

Callamard pressed the governments of France and Mali “to advance the investigation without further delay so that justice may be served”.

RFI’s parent company France Medias Monde said Friday it was waiting for the investigation “to fully clarify the circumstances of the tragedy and lead to the arrest of all the remaining members of the hit squad and their possible accomplices so they can be tried.”

The Friends of Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon group also noted the death of Bakabo but said in a press release they “regret that this jihadist leader responsible for the double murder of RFI journalists was not arrested to be questioned on the circumstances of this tragedy.”