Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Two suspected militants interrogated over French hostage killings

Two suspected militants are being interrogated by Niger authorities in connection with the deaths of the two Frenchmen found on Saturday 8th January.

The two victims, Antoine de Leocour and Vincent Delory, both 25, were found on the Niger-Mali border, shortly after France launched a specialist rescue mission in an attempt to free them.

Reports have emerged that Paris suspects Al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) to be behind the kidnapping and execution of the two men, however, no single group has yet claimed responsibility.

Four gunmen kidnapped the two men from a restaurant in Niger's capital, Niamey, last Friday [7th January], and killed them during the rescue mission. The French prime minister, Francois Fillon, said the kidnappers, “killed the hostages in cold blood”. A number of news agencies have quoted a medical source, who'd examined the victims, as saying the men, "had been tied up, their hands behind their backs, and they had black marks on their bodies…It was a horrific way to die”.

A Niger military chief offered a different view on the situation, saying that the hostages had most likely been "executed" before the failed attempt to rescue them. It has also emerged that three Niger soldiers and four militants had been killed during the operation, which involved French specialist forces and helicopters.

The French defence minister, Alain Juppe, backed France's decision to send a rescue mission, saying action had to be taken otherwise it would have been said that France “does not fight terrorism.” He flew out to Niger on Monday 10th January to assist both the French and Niger authorities with the investigations.

Sources: BBC News, All Headline News, News24, AFP

For more news and expert analysis about the Sahara region, please see Sahara Focus.

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