Execution of French journalists in Mali exposes fragility of peace

Reporter and producer travelling with UN were kidnapped after meeting Tuareg independence leader

Paris

The kidnap and murder of two French radio journalists in northern Mali has brutally exposed the limits of the peace imposed by France’s military campaign against Islamist rebels earlier this year.

Ghislaine Dupont, 57, one of the best known-journalists in Francophone Africa, and her veteran producer, Claude Verlon, 55, were executed in the desert six miles from the town of Kidal, where they had been seized after interviewing a local Tuareg independence leader.

At the end of an emergency cabinet meeting in Paris yesterday, the Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, said that the two journalists were “coldly murdered” by one of “the terrorist groups that we are still fighting, who refuse democracy and elections”. President François Hollande condemned what he described as a “heinous act”. Exactly why the journalists were killed, and who carried out the attack, was still unclear last night.

One of the victims had been shot twice and the other three times. The Toyota pick-up truck into which they had been bundled on Saturday morning was found a few metres away. French officials denied reports that there had been a shootout or that the truck was being pursued by helicopters at the time of the murders.

The journalists, both old hands when it came to reporting in Africa, had been warned not to travel to the remote outpost of Kidal, in the Sahara desert in the far north-east of Mali, which is still a cauldron of tensions between ethnic Arabs and Tuaregs and rival Islamist and secular independence movements.

The town was the birthplace of a Tuareg uprising last year which plunged the country into chaos, which led to a coup in the capital Bamako and the occupation of the northern half of the country by al-Qa’ida-linked militants.

The deaths of the two journalists abruptly ended the rejoicing in France which followed the release last Tuesday of four mining engineers who were held hostage in the mountains of northern Mali for more than three years by members of the militant group al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim) who seized them in Niger.

The murders also put into perspective the success of the French military intervention last January which ended radical Islamist control of the north of the country and checked a threatened invasion of the south.

Despite elections in July which in theory returned the whole of Mali to democratic rule, 3,000 French soldiers and just over 6,000 UN troops are still battling radical Islamist groups who make hit-and-run attacks in the sparsely populated north of the country. Ms Dupont and Mr Verlon had worked in Africa for many years for Radio France Internationale (RFI). To many French-speaking Africans, RFI is a vital source of news and Ms Dupont  was one of the station’s best-known, and most respected, voices. The RFI studios in Paris were flooded yesterday with tributes to both the journalists from dozens of African politicians and thousands of ordinary African listeners. “I have lost my sister,” said one Malian politician, Tiébilé Dramé. “She will remain with us in the desert… sleeping the sleep of the righteous.”

The French defence ministry said the two journalists had travelled to Kidal with UN forces. They were seized after an interview with Ambeiry Ag Rhissa, one of the chieftains of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (NMLA), a Tuareg secular separatist group which once fought alongside al-Qa’ida but has now entered into an uneasy alliance with the government.

“When they left, I heard a strange noise outside. I immediately went out to see and when I opened my door, a turbaned man pointed a gun at me and told me go back inside,” Mr Rhissa told Reuters news agency. Other witnesses said the journalists were forced into a beige Toyota pick-up by four men. Their driver heard the two journalists trying to resist. “It was the last time they were seen,” RFI said.

A land and air pursuit began but French military officials insisted that there had been no shootout. “At no point did our forces come into visual or physical contact with the moving vehicle,” said a French army spokesman, Gilles Jaron. “The bodies were found by a French patrol close to a four-wheel drive pick-up.”

Suspicion initially fell on NMLA and Aqim following the killings, though neither group claimed responsibility. Though Aqim is known to bankroll its operations by kidnapping Westerners, officials in Mali and France were unable to explain why the abductors chose to kill the French journalists instead of holding them for ransom.

Cyril Bensimon, formerly of RFI but now working for Le Monde newspaper, said his two former colleagues knew what risks they should, or should not, take. “Their death poses a brutal question,” he wrote. “Should journalists stay away from dangerous places? If they do, such places are condemned to oblivion. Where there are no witnesses, there are no crimes.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
News
Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, right, met at Havana Golf Club in 1962 to mock the game
newsFidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?