French journalist deaths: 'Suspects arrested' in Mali

The journalists were interviewing a political leader before their abduction

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Security forces have arrested and questioned a number of suspects over the deaths of two French journalists in northern Mali, officials say.

Radio France Internationale's Ghislaine Dupont, 57, and Claude Verlon, 58, were kidnapped and killed on Saturday after interviewing a local leader in Kidal.

France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said operations were ongoing to find the attackers.

He has described the deaths as "cold and calculated assassinations".

The bodies of the two journalists have been moved to the Malian capital, Bamako, ahead of their repatriation later on Monday, according to RFI.

The desert town of Kidal is at the centre of a political dispute between ethnic Tuareg nomads and the rest of the population of Mali, who are black Africans.

Mali timeline

Map showing Kidal and Gao in Mali
  • 2011: Tuareg fighters leave Libya after Gaddafi toppled and take up arms at home in Mali
  • March-April 2012: Separatist and Islamist groups seize control of northern Mali
  • Jan 2013: French-led forces oust rebels from towns
  • June 2013: Government and separatist rebels sign peace deal
  • July 2013: Elections held to reunite Mali
'Terrorist groups'

In an interview with French radio on Monday, Mr Fabius declined to confirm previous reports that French forces had arrested five suspects and transferred them to the city of Gao.

But he said efforts were continuing to "identify a certain number of people in camps".

Meanwhile, French news agency AFP quoted a police source in Gao as saying a dozen suspects had been arrested over the deaths of the journalists.

And an unnamed intelligence official told the Associated Press that about six people had been detained.

"We believe that of the people they now have in custody, they have at least one of the four killers," the official said.

Mr Fabius said sound engineer Mr Verlon and reporter Ms Dupont were killed about 12km (seven miles) east of Kidal. One had been shot with two bullets, the other three.

Mr Fabius called the killers "terrorist groups who reject democracy".

He said investigators suspected the involvement of Islamist militants from either al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) or the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao).

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Deaths of journalists

  • 42 journalists killed in 2013
  • 1,009 journalists killed since 1992
  • 596 journalists murdered with impunity since 1992
  • 456 journalists in exile since 2008

Source: Committee to Protect Journalists

Resurgence

There are 200 French troops and 200 UN peacekeepers as well as a Malian army base in Kidal.

RFI said Mr Verlon and Ms Dupont were on their second assignment there, having travelled to the town in July to cover the first round of the presidential election.

Ambeiry Ag Rhissa, a local official of the MNLA ethnic Tuareg separatist group, said the pair had just left his house after interviewing him when they were kidnapped.

He said he did not see how many kidnappers were there, but other sources said four men forced the journalists into a beige truck which was then driven off into the surrounding desert.

France led an operation to oust Islamist rebels from northern Mali - its former colony - earlier this year, sending in thousands of troops.

It handed over responsibility for security to a UN force in the summer.

But French troops are still in the country helping to prevent a resurgence of militant activity in the region.

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