French soldiers killed a Malian jihadist suspected of being responsible for the kidnapping and death of two French journalists in 2013.
Florence Parly, Minister of Defense in Paris, said that French forces in the Sahel region killed “four terrorists” during an operation in northern Mali on June 5, including Bayes Ag Bakabo, the main suspect in the death of journalists from Radio France Internationale (RFI). Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon.
“Its neutralization means the end of a long wait,” said Parly, adding that Bakabo was in the village of Aguelhok preparing an attack on the UN peacekeepers when he been killed.
Dupont and Verlon, both in their 50s and veteran journalists, were arrested in the northern Mali town of Kidal in November 2013 after interviewing a Tuareg separatist leader.
Their bullet-riddled bodies were found hours later, with Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claiming the killings were revenge against France’s decision to intervene against jihadist groups in the country at the start of the war. year.
A French investigation concluded that Bakabo, also a known drug dealer, was driving the van used to kidnap the two journalists.
Parly expressed his “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 accuse military secrecy of having hampered efforts to that end.
In November, Agnès Callamard, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, noted that “the alleged perpetrators have been named but have not yet been arrested and prosecuted”. Callamard urged the French and Malian governments “to advance the investigation without further delay so that justice is done”.
RFI’s parent company, France Médias Monde, said on Friday that 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 killing and their possible accomplices so that ‘they be judged’. .
The group of Friends of Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon also noted the death of Bakabo, but said in a statement that they “regret that this jihadist leader responsible for the double murder of RFI journalists was not arrested for questioning on the circumstances of this tragedy ”. .
Parly said the operation “illustrates one of France’s main priorities in the Sahel region: to eliminate the main leaders of the terrorist groups that are wreaking havoc in the region”.
News of Bakabo’s death emerged just a day after French President Emmanuel Macron announced a withdrawal of French troops from the Sahel region, which has 5,100 bases in the arid and volatile region of the southern fringe of the Sahara.
Macron did not give figures for the withdrawal, but made it clear that he wanted France’s future involvement to be limited to counterterrorism operations as part of a multinational European force.
In Washington, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the United States will always support counterterrorism operations in the Sahel. “We will continue to provide some support – the kind of support we provided to the French that they needed in the region. “
The Sahel is seen by many Western politicians and experts as a major risk to global security due to the rise of jihadist groups there, as well as its role as a crossroads for arms and people trafficking.
Journalists covering the insurgency in the Sahel often find themselves the target of armed groups, either for their reporting or for their ransom value.
French reporter Olivier Dubois, 46, who disappeared in April, is said to be in the hands of the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM), the largest jihadist alliance in the Sahel.
The 46-year-old freelance writer was in the northern Mali town of Gao, where he had traveled to interview a jihadist commander with links to al-Qaida.
In 2020, French soldiers serving in the Barkhane force killed AQIM chief Abdelmalek Droukdel in a major breakthrough, while regular airstrikes target other senior commanders. Another senior AQIM official linked to the murder of RFI journalists, Amada Ag Hama, was killed in a raid in northern Mali in May 2015.