Two French journalists killed in Mali town of Kidal

image captionRFI said the two journalists were passionate about Africa

Two journalists for French radio station RFI have been killed after they were kidnapped in the northern town of Kidal in Mali.

Claude Verlon and Ghislaine Dupont were abducted after interviewing a local political leader. Their bodies were found outside the town soon after.

French President Francois Hollande called the killings "despicable".

The killings come days after France was celebrating the release of four hostages from neighbouring Niger.

'Strange noise'

Radio France Internationale said Claude Verlon and Ghislaine Dupont were on their second assignment in Kidal, 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.

"I heard an unusual noise in the street," he told France 24. "Their car was parked in front of my house, about 10m from the door.

"I went out to see what was happening. Once I got to the door, I saw a car, a pick-up, parked next to theirs. There was a man on the ground who had a weapon. He immediately pointed it at me and said: "Go back inside, go back in!"

"So I went in, and shortly afterwards they took off with the two journalists. They left in a great hurry."

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.

One report said the kidnappers' vehicle was being pursued by the security forces; a French attack helicopter was seen above Kidal a few hours after the abduction occurred.

A spokesman for France's armed forces said its troops never had any visual or physical contact with the gunmen following the abduction.

Two helicopters flew over the area after a French patrol found the journalists' bodies on a desert track some 10km (six miles) to the east of Kidal, Col Gilles Jarron said.

media captionThe French journalists were interviewing a political leader before their abduction

Nicolas Champeaux, a journalist with RFI's African service, said he and his colleagues were "devastated" by what had happened.

He called 57-year-old Ghislaine Dupont a "relentless, tenacious reporter" with a great sense of humour who was "always encouraging us to dig more, to look out for more, to get closer to the action on the front line but also to investigate".

Sound technician Claude Verlon, 55, was a true professional who was "fun and interesting to work with". "He was also used to difficult areas" and "loved challenges", Mr Champeaux said.

Confirming their deaths, the French foreign ministry said it would "in conjunction with the Malian authorities, make every effort to find out as soon as possible about the circumstances of their death".

A statement from President Hollande's office said he "expresses his indignation over this despicable act", adding that he is meeting ministers on Sunday to discuss the incident.

A spokesman for Mali's government said it condemned "in the strongest terms this barbaric and cowardly act" and "reiterates its determination to continue to fight against terrorism and organised crime."


The BBC's international development correspondent Mark Doyle, who was in Kidal just two days ago, describes it as a small place with a population of some 10,000.

He says it is at the epicentre of a political dispute between ethnic Tuareg nomads and the rest of the population of Mali, who are black Africans.

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

It is extremely surprising, our correspondent says, that such an attack could have happened in broad daylight under the noses of so many troops.

Earlier this week, four Frenchmen were released three years after being kidnapped by al-Qaeda-linked gunmen targeting French firms operating a uranium mine in neighbouring Niger.

The hostages had been held in the deserts of northern Mali.

Jubilation at their release was tempered by speculation that the French government had paid as much as a 20m euros (£17m; $26m) ransom.

Hostage-taking has become a big money-making business by extremist groups in the Sahara, say observers.

Much of it goes towards buying the means to carry out more kidnappings: Procuring four-wheel drive jeeps, fuel, weapons and GPS systems, BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner reports.

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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