French hostage 'was shot dead' in Mali

Undated handout image released by AQIM to ANI on 9 December 2011
Image caption Philippe Verdon (R) was kidnapped with associate Serge Lazarevic in 2011 by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb

A French hostage found dead in Mali this month after being held by Islamist militants was killed by a shot to the head, the Paris prosecutor's office says.

A post mortem examination conducted on Philippe Verdon's body revealed the circumstances of his death.

The prosecutor said it showed that Mr Verdon "was assassinated".

Mr Verdon's body was found early this month in northern Mali, and brought back to France this week.

He was kidnapped in 2011 by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

He had been known to be in ill health, and some had speculated that his death was related to his pre-existing medical conditions.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb recently said that eight other foreign hostages it was holding, including five French nationals, were alive.

Preliminary investigation

"After the return of the body to France, the autopsy... was able to establish that Philippe Verdon was murdered by being shot in the head," the Paris prosecutor's office said in a statement.

A preliminary investigation into the murder was open, he said.

Mr Verdon, a geologist, was kidnapped with an associate, Serge Lazarevic.

His body was found in the northern Mali town of Tessalit.

Earlier this year, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for his death.

It said in March that Mr Verdon was killed in response to France's military intervention in Mali.

France sent some 4,500 troops to Mali, its former colony, in January to halt an offensive by al-Qaeda-linked Islamists, ending their 10-month control of the north of the country.

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