France’s most-wanted jihadist flies home

France’s most high-profile, home-grown jihadist was flown into Paris on Tuesday following his capture by French forces in Mali two weeks ago. Brittany-born Gilles Le Guen was suspected of taking part in the attack on an Algerian gas plant in January.


A French marine-turned-jihadist from Brittany was flown into Paris on Tuesday morning after being captured by French forces in the Malian city of Timbuktu. Gilles Le Guen, who goes by the name of Abdel Jelil, was initially suspected of taking part in an attack on the Algerian In Amenas gas plant in January. But his involvement in the deadly hostage crisis has since been ruled out.

Believed to have joined Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) after moving to Mali with his family, 58-year-old Le Guen said in October he was following in the footsteps of Osama bin Laden.

In the same video message, in which he appeared in Islamic dress with an assault rifle at his side, he warned France, the United States and the United Nations against military intervention in Mali. France went on to launch and lead an operation in January to drive extremists from the north of the country, which they had controlled for almost a year.

‘Lost soul who turned to terror’

Le Guen’s role in the outfit during his time in Timbuktu has been questioned. In November 2012 he is thought to have been detained by AQIM leaders because they thought he was a spy. Locals from the region have told foreign media that he was mistrusted by fellow militants because he defended the rights of women and non-radical locals.

French defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who also hails from Brittany, described Le Guen on Monday as a “lost soul who became a terrorist”.

Born in 1955 in Nantes, Guen joined the merchant navy at a young age and later worked for French NGO Doctors Without Borders. Believed to have lived in Ethiopia, Morocco and Mauritania, Le Guen travelled extensively before settling in Mali in 2011. He claims he converted to Islam in the 1980s.

On arrival in Paris, Le Guen was immediately handed over to France’s Central Directorate of Interior Intelligence (DCRI). “We want to know the path he has taken,” Interior Minister Manuel Valls said on Europe 1 radio on Tuesday. “He will be questioned.”

Le Guen's Moroccan-born wife and their five children were flown to France following his capture two weeks ago.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning