Two French journalists working for Radio France Internationale, Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon, were kidnapped in Kidal in northern Mali on November 3. Shortly thereafter, and only seven miles from where they were abducted, they were murdered.
In a blog I posted on November 4, I expressed surprise that the two were not held for ransom. Ransom is an important income stream for jihadist groups operating in the Sahel. According to the French media, the four French hostages held for three years in Niger were released in October upon the payment of U.S.$27 million, though the French government says that it did not pay a ransom.
On November 6, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) issued a statement claiming responsibility for the murder of the journalists. It was published by a Mauritanian news agency and picked up by Deutsche Welle. In it, AQIM claims that the murders were retaliation for a French “new crusade” in Mali.
I would have thought that kidnapping for ransom would be a more profitable form of “retaliation” than murder.
Associated Press, however, reports a plausible explanation. It quotes an unnamed Mali intelligence officer as saying that the kidnapping was done by low-level jihadists attempting to “please al-Qaeda operatives in the Islamic Maghreb after being accused of stealing money.”
The French government says it is sticking to its timetable for withdrawing its troops from Mali despite the upsurge in violence in the north.
The episode would appear to be an example of the intersection of the criminal and the political that persists in northern Mali and elsewhere in the Sahel region.