French helicopters fired on kidnapper's vehicles: sources

11th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

French combat helicopters fired on the vehicles of the kidnappers of two murdered Frenchmen in northern Mali, where the charred wreckage was found, sources told AFP.

According to a Malian security source, French commandos opened fire on the vehicles before landing. Several "burnt vehicles" were discovered at the scene of the assault against the kidnappers which took place on Saturday.

The "final assault" took place at about fifteen kilometers (nine miles) from the Malian town Tabankor (35 km south of Menaka).

"Among the burnt vehicles there was a big 4X4 registered in Benin," said an administrative official from the north.

In Niamey, witnesses to the kidnapping which has been attributed to Al-Qaeda, said the two Frenchmen were abducted by armed gunmen wearing turbans "on board a 4X4 registered to Benin."

According to French authorities the lifeless bodies of the two hostages were discovered after the attack.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said they were killed "in cold blood" by their captors.

A source close to the Niger presidency told AFP that "the bodies were charred."

A medical source in Niamey who was able to see the bodies said the two men were "tied up, their hands behind their backs, with black marks on their bodies."

An autopsy must be performed at the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Paris.

Among the charred vehicles found at the scene of the attack, "there was also a Niger police vehicle that the Nigerians came to fetch" on Sunday, said the administrative source.

A Malian breeder, returning from the "desert" area where the clash took place, said he saw "several burnt vehicles including one belonging to the Niger police."

"On the ground I saw the remains of people who had been burned, human pieces," he added.

In Niamey on Monday, French Defence Minister Alain Juppe denied any French "blunder".

Among the dead were "terrorists and people wearing the uniform of the Niger police," said Juppe, adding an enquiry had been established to discover "the reason for their presence inside the vehicles which we stopped."

According to a security source in Mali, a 4x4 with a double tank allowing it to travel 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) was leading the kidnappers' convoy, followed by a pick-up which was carrying "ten boxes of ammunition and weapons."

© 2011 AFP

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