Owner of kidnap vehicle identified in Mali journalist murders
The owner of a car used in the kidnapping of two French journalists murdered in northern Mali has been identified, Malian and regional security sources told AFP on Thursday.
Ghislaine Dupont, 57, and Claude Verlon, 55, were shot dead by gunmen French officials called "terrorists" after they interviewed a Tuareg separatist leader in the flashpoint northeastern town of Kidal on Saturday.
"We have informed France of the formal identification of the owner of the kidnappers' vehicle. It is Bayes Ag Bakabo, a Tuareg," a Malian security source close to the investigation said.
The source said Ag Bakabo was from the same tribe as Ambery Ag Rhissa, a leader of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) in Kidal, whom the journalists had just interviewed before they were snatched from outside his home.
The source said Ag Bakabo was "strongly suspected" of having planned the kidnapping on behalf of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), whose members he was regularly associating with beforehand.
The source said they had obtained details of family members of Ag Bakabo's alleged accomplice, and were "on their trail".
An African military source in Kidal confirmed the information, saying that Ag Bakabo had joined the MNLA after leaving AQIM to cover up his association with the Islamist group.
The Malian source said the kidnappers may have murdered the Radio France Internationale journalists after an engine failure in the kidnap vehicle, fearing their captives would help the pursuing French army track them down.
The source said the journalists were initially "very likely" to have been destined for the AQIM unit led by Abdelkrim Targui, a Tuareg former lieutenant of Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, one of the AQIM leaders who were killed fighting the French army in northern Mali in late February.
AQIM said in a statement published online by Mauritanian news agency Sahara Medias on Wednesday that the killings were "the minimum debt" owed by the French people and President Francois Hollande "in return for their new crusade".
"This operation was a response to the daily crimes committed by France against Malians and the work of African and international forces against the Muslims of Azawad," AQIM said, using the name given by the Tuareg people to northern Mali.
© 2013 AFP