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FMM seeks probe into purported links between journalists’ murder and al Qaeda hostage ransom

© RFI | Claude Verlon (centre) and Ghislaine Dupont (right) were murdered in northern Mali in November 2013.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2017-01-27

France Médias Monde has called on French judges to investigate purported links between the 2013 murder of two RFI journalists and botched negotiations for the release of French hostages held by al Qaeda's North African branch.

FMM, which includes Radio France Internationale (RFI) and its sister news channel FRANCE 24, said it mandated its lawyers to press for an investigation into the new revelations, aired in a France 2 report on Thursday.

Ghislaine Dupont, 57, and Claude Verlon, 55, were abducted and murdered on November 2, 2013, in northern Mali, where they were covering an election campaign for RFI.

Their killing was claimed by al Qaeda’s regional branch AQIM (al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), which spoke of retaliation for France’s military intervention to drive Islamist insurgents out of northern Mali.

According to the investigative report by France 2, the murder of the two French journalists may be linked to the release, days before, of four French hostages held by AQIM.

The report, which follows a year-long investigation by France 2 journalists, says French negotiators paid tens of millions of euros to the terrorist organisation in exchange for the hostages, who were kidnapped in 2010 in neighbouring Niger.

But it claims that competition between rival agencies involved in the negotiations delayed the deal, suggesting the RFI journalists may have been murdered in retaliation for a hitch in the ransom’s payment.

In a disturbing twist, the report reveals that Dupont’s personal computer, which she had left in Paris, was hacked and her email box emptied moments before her abduction.

“We know that on November 2, half an hour before Ghislaine was kidnapped, someone entered her apartment, her passwords were changed […] data was stolen, and all her emails were deleted from her computer,” Geoffrey Livolsi, investigative journalist at France 2, told FRANCE 24 in an interview.

He also said that although there was no response from French authorities immediately after the making of the documentary, France’s external security agency, DGSE, contacted the film team just 24 hours before the documentary was due to air.

“The DGSE answered us in writing, which is very rare and surprising, saying that Pierre-Antoine Lorenzi, […] unofficially known as the negotiator for the release of the Arlit hostages, had never played any role whatsoever in this negotiation […] and that there was nothing linking the Arlit hostage case with the murders of Ghislaine and Claude.”

In a statement, FMM praised the France 2 documentary team for looking into the case.

“We welcome the fact that another news organisation has taken up this case and added new material to the investigations carried out by our own teams over the past three years,” it said.

“France Médias Monde, a plaintiff in the inquiry into the circumstances that led to the death of its two employees, urges French judges to investigate the new material,” the statement added.

A French inquiry into the murders has made little progress since it was launched in April 2014, to the dismay of the slain journalists’ families and their lawyers. They fear the killing of several suspects in French raids on al Qaeda cells will further hamper the investigation.

Date created : 2017-01-27

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