French journalist kidnapped in Mali appears in video asking for help

French journalist Olivier Dubois
French journalist Olivier Dubois © Capture Réseaux sociaux

The head of Reporters Without Borders says that French journalist Olivier Dubois was kidnapped April 8 while working in Mali’s northern city of Gao.

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A video was released Wednesday showing Dubois saying he was kidnapped on April 8 by the al-Qaida-linked group JNIM. In the video he calls on his family, friends and authorities to work for his release. The video could not be independently verified.

Reporters Without Borders Secretary General and Executive Director Christophe Deloire confirmed the kidnapping to The Associated Press, and called for the reporter's release.

“We ask the Malian and French authorities to do everything possible to obtain his release and send all our support to his family and loved ones,” he posted on Twitter.

Dubois works for various French news outlets including Le Point Afrique and left-leaning weekly Libération. According to the latter, he has been based in the country for six years.

Dubois was reporting in Gao in northern Mali and did not return to his hotel after lunch on April 8, Deloire said. But he added on Twitter that his media freedom organisation first became aware of Dubois's disappearance two days later, when Dubois failed to show up for his flight back to the Malian capital of Bamako.

The French Foreign Ministry confirmed his disappearance in a statement, stopping short of describing it as a kidnapping, but saying they are in touch with his family and Malian authorities.

French civilians favoured as targets for kidnapping

French civilians have long been favoured targets for kidnapping by criminal and Islamist groups in West Africa's arid Sahel region, partly because of perceptions that the French government is prepared to pay ransoms to secure their release.

France has repeatedly denied paying ransoms for hostages. Malian authorities were not immediately available for comment.

FRANCE 24's specialist in jihadi movements, Wassim Nasr, shed more light on the situation. Although it was known that Dubois was missing since April 8, "We didn't know whether he was a hostage or had been invited by a jihadii group," he said. "But the fact is today, in this video, he says himself that he's been taken hostage by JNIM, making him the latest French hostage in the region since the liberation of Sophie Pétronin a few months ago," added Nasr.

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French aid worker Pétronin was freed in October last year alongside a senior Malian politician and two Italians in a prisoner swap deal that saw scores of Islamist militants released. Pétronin had been abducted near Gao in late 2016.

Libération reported that Dubois had "solid contacts among the jihadist sphere, some of whom he has known for years", adding he had proposed an interview with a top militant, which was refused by the media outlet for security reasons.

According to Libération's sources, Dubois left his Gao hotel on his own, on April 8. Two days after he failed to show up for his flight, Reporters without borders decided not to alert authorities over Dubois' disappearance, believing his interview could have been delayed or that he could still have been a guest of the militants who invited him, "and not as a prisoner", Libération added.

Mali has been in turmoil since a 2012 uprising prompted mutinous soldiers to overthrow the president. The power vacuum that resulted ultimately led to an Islamic insurgency and a French-led campaign that ousted the jihadists from the cities they controlled in northern Mali in 2013.

But insurgents remain active and extremist groups affiliated with al-Qaida and the Islamic State group have moved from the arid north to more populated central Mali since 2015, attacking targets and stoking animosity and violence between ethnic groups in the region.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)

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