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France - Mali

RFI journalists killed due to oil leak, French investigator

Paris public prosecutor François Molins, who is leading the investigation of Dupont and Verlon's murder
Paris public prosecutor François Molins, who is leading the investigation of Dupont and Verlon's murder Reuters/Benoit Tessier

RFI's Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon were murdered because their kidnappers' vehicle broke down. That's the most likely explanation for our colleagues' deaths in northern Mali on 2 November, according to Paris investigator François Molins.

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The four-wheel drive vehicle used by the four kidnappers was found abandoned outside Kidal, where the RFI reporters were grabbed.

It had a serious oil leak and would have been unable to go over 40 kmph, leading Molins to conclude that the kidnappers had dumped it and, in a panic about being caught by French troops, killed their captives.

Dossier: War in Mali

Ghislaine Dupont was hit by three bullets, the first of which, to the aorta, killed her, while Claude Verlon, received seven bullets in the back.

Molins confirmed earlier reports that the key suspect is Bayes Ag Bakabo, a Tuareg drug trafficker with links to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim), which claimed responsibility for the murders, saying they were a reprisal for the French-led intervention in northern Mali earlier this year.

Ag Bakabo was seen buying fuel before the kidnapping took place in front of a Tuareg leader's house, according to Molins who outlined the circumstances of the crime.

"At the conclusion of the interview with this politician from the Movement for the National Liberation of Arazawad, the two journalists came out and got into their chauffeur-driven vehicle," Molins told a press conferennce on Wednesday. "It was at this moment that this beige pickup truck carrying the four terrorists arrived from the opposite direction and parked in parallel to their vehicle.

"One person got out and made the driver lie on the ground. Two other terrorists got out of the beige pickup truck and compelled the two RFI journalists to get into their vehicle using force. The pick up left, taking off to the east of Kidal, and was found by the French army at approximately 14:25-14:30 with the bodies of the two journalists around 40 metres away."

The vehicle was in a "very, very bad state", the public prosecutor added. "We got it started and managed to drive 500 metres before it seriously broke down again, with the engine block extremely overheated and a number of major leaks around the sump."

Ag Bakabo is a "bandit, a trafficker, rather than a hardline jihadist", a Kidal local official told RFI.

He is reported to have stolen vehicles and served as a guide for Aqim and was arrested by the Malian army in December 2010.

He was among a number of collaborators of the Ansar Dine Islamist group exchanged for a group of Malian soldiers in April 2012, sources have told RFI, and had taken refuge in the camp of a Tuareg militia in the centre of Kidal.

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