Al Qaeda’s North African branch has claimed responsibility for the murder of two French journalists who were abducted in northern Mali. The cell said the killings were to avenge France’s "new crusade" in its old colony.
In a statement published online by Mauritanian news agency Sahara Media on Wednesday, the terrorist cell al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said the two French journalists were killed in retaliation for "crimes perpetrated by France and its UN, Malian and African allies."
"The organization considers that this is the least of the price which (French) President Francois Hollande and his people will pay for their new crusade," the communique added.
France launched a military operation in January in a bid to rid the area of Islamic extremists.
The kidnapping did not fit the network's usual means of operation according to Jean-Paul Rouiller, director of the Geneva Centre for Training and Analysis of Terrorism and an expert on AQIM.
On the condition of anonymity, a Mali intelligence office involved with the case told the Associated Press news agency that investigators believed the kidnapping to be the work of a lower-level jihadist attempting to please al Qaeda operatives in the Islamic Maghreb after being accused of stealing money.
Two French nationals, Ghislaine Dupont, a senior correspondent and Claude Verlon, a production technician, who worked for the country's international broadcaster Radio France Internationale, were kidnapped on Saturday. Several hours later, their bodies were found near their kidnapper's vehicle, which had broken down, 12 kilometers (seven miles) outside Kidal. The pair had just finished interviewing an ethnic Tuareg rebel leader in the town.
Kidal was the birthplace of a Tuareg uprising last year that plunged Mali into chaos. A subsequent military coup created a power vacuum that allowed the rebels to seize control of the country's north.
On Tuesday, the daily newspaper Le Monde reported that three of the four alleged abductors had been identified by French intelligence. Both the French government and the presidency refused to comment on the allegations.
France announced Tuesday that it had increased the number of troops in the Kidal area by 150. The region is a stronghold of the Tuareg separatist rebels and where instability has grown in recent months.
At least 18 foreigners have been abducted, many of them French nationals, since 2003 the global intelligence group Stratfor reports.
jlw/jm (AFP, AP, Reuters)