Al Qaeda-linked group claims murder of journalists
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Mauritanian news agency Sahara Medias said Wednesday that it has received a message from Al Qaeda-linked militant group AQIM claiming responsibility for the murder of RFI journalists Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon, killed in Mali on Saturday.
Al Qaeda-linked militant group AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) has claimed responsibility for the murder of two French journalists killed in Mali on Saturday, according to Mauritanian news agency Sahara Medias.
Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon, who worked for FRANCE 24’s sister station Radio France Internationale (RFI), were found dead 12 km outside of Kidal in northern Mali just hours after being kidnapped by gunmen.
Sahara Medias, which is often sent statements by Islamist militants in Mali, said it received the claim in an email from fighters loyal to Abdelkrim al-Targui, a senior commander in the region.
“This operation was a response to crimes committed by France against Malians and the work of African and international forces against the Muslims of Azawad,” the email said.
The AQIM statement added that the killings were "the minimum debt" owed by the French people and President François Hollande "in return for their new crusade".
‘Malian commander led attack’
Sahara Medias said the murders had been carried out by a unit led by Targui, one of the few Malian nationals who has risen to prominence inside the al Qaeda branch, led almost exclusively by Algerian jihadists.
Targui is a native of the Kidal region and is believed to be responsible for the previous kidnappings of two French nationals, Philippe Verdon and Serge Lazarevic, who were grabbed from the town of Hombori in northern Mali in 2011. Lazarevic remains in captivity. Verdon was executed earlier this year.
AQIM grew out of a movement launched in the late 1990s by radical Algerian Islamists who sought the overthrow of the Algerian government and to replace it with Islamic rule.
The organisation linked up with al Qaeda in 2006 and has spun a tight network across tribes, clans, family and business lines that stretches across the vast Sahel region abutting the southern Sahara desert.
France, meanwhile, said on Tuesday it had sent seven investigators, including intelligence and police officials, to Mali to assist in the hunt for Dupont and Verlon’s killers.
A member of the Malian security forces said that "at least 35" suspects had so far been arrested in connection with the murders, while a local government source in Kidal put the figure at "a few dozen".
(FRANCE 24 with wires)