Paris yesterday blamed terrorist groups for the murder in “cold blood” of two radio journalists in northern Mali, saying French troops would boost security in the region.
French Minister of Foreign Affairs Laurent Fabius said Radio France Internationale (RFI) journalist Ghislaine Dupont and sound technician Claude Verlon were shot dead after being abducted by armed men on Saturday.
“They were killed in cold blood, one took two bullets and the other three,” he said after crisis talks led by French President Francois Hollande on the murders in the northeastern Malian town of Kidal.
“The killers are those we are fighting, the terrorist groups who are opposed to democracy and elections,” Fabius said, adding that security in “the entire zone and neighboring areas, in particular with concern to French citizens, will be intensified.”
Dupont, 57, and Verlon, 55, traveled to Kidal on Saturday to interview a spokesman for Tuareg separatist group the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and were abducted outside his home, RFI said.
They were both veteran journalists experienced in Africa reporting. Dupont had spent 27 years covering the continent since joining the station in 1986.
The station quoted MNLA spokesman Ambery Ag Rhissa as saying he heard a commotion outside his house and saw the pair being bundled into a four-wheel-drive vehicle after the interview.
Men in turbans and speaking the Tuareg language Tamashek “ordered Mr Ag Rhissa to get back inside and forced the journalists’ driver to lie down,” RFI said, adding that Rhissa had heard Verlon and Dupont resist.
“This was the last time that the journalists were seen alive,” said Marie-Christine Saragosse, chief executive of France Media Monde, which owns RFI.
She said she was leaving for Mali to bring back the bodies.
The journalists’ corpses were found less than two hours later by a French military patrol about 12km east of Kidal, Fabius said, adding they were lying near the car.
The UN Security Council has strongly condemned the killing, while European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso called it a “barbaric assassination.”
There has been a resurgence of violence in Mali, a former French colony in west Africa where Paris sent troops early this year to drive out Islamists and Tuareg MNLA rebels who seized the country’s north.
Kidal residents were still reeling from shock yesterday.
“I am deeply upset. I saw the two journalists an hour before they died. They were happy to be with us,” Awa Diallo said. “They were very kind.”
Kidal, more than 1,500km northeast of Bamako, is the traditional homeland of the Tuareg people and birthplace of the MNLA’s rebellion.
A French government source said the journalists asked to be taken there with troops from France’s Operation Serval, but ended up going with UN MINUSMA peacekeeping forces after Serval refused for safety reasons.