Frenchmen in Niger almost certainly killed by Aqim, says Fillon
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French Prime Minister François Fillon said Monday that France is almost certain that al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb was involved in the kidnapping of two French men in Niger, who were then killed during a rescue operation by the Niger and French military. He said that the final assault took place in Mali, and that only French troops were involved.
"It’s almost sure that it was Aqim,” said Fillon on the sidelines of a ceremony at the Matignon, the Prime Minister’s residence.
The kidnapping was “ordered by Aqim and executed by various people - a dozen guys,” he added.
According to Fillon, the final assault, when the two hostages were killed, took place across the Niger border in Mali, and only French forces were involved.
"The Niger forces were the first to intervene; then they asked for help. We tried everything possible,” he said.
French forces took part in the final assault when the kidnappers “crossed the Malian border”. Niger forces stayed on their side of the border, while French forces were given the go-ahead by Bamako to intervene on Malian territory.
He maintained that the two men were killed by the kidnappers.
“The hostage-takers, seeing they were pursued, killed the hostages in cold blood," said Fillon. "The investigation will of course go deeper, and all the results will be given to the families of the victims.”
French troops have been deployed to the region as Aqim is already holding five French hostages taken last year in Niger, and has been blamed for the death of a sixth.
Matthieu Giudère, professor of strategic studies, University of Geneva
There have been questions raised about the operation which ended in the deaths of the two hostages. But Matthieu Giudère, author of a number of books on al-Qaeda, says he believes the French military had no choice but to follow the Niger military operation.
“French President Sarkozy had to choose between supporting the Niger operation and not to support it,” he told RFI. “And in order to get it to succeed, he had to support the operation. He had no choice because everyone knows that if you can’t ace the hostages within the first 24 hours, you cannot get them without a long negotiation.”
Giudère sees the kidnappings as a form of revenge of the killing of seven al-Qaeda members by French and Mauritanian authorities last summer.
“[The kidnappers] only went there to catch two more people, and that’s why I think it is to have the same number of hostages as the number of fighters they lost six months ago,” he said. “It’s clearly a revenge situation.”
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