France believes French Sahel hostages ‘alive’

France's defence minister insisted there is "every reason to believe" French hostages being held in the Sahel were still alive, but said there was "no proof" that two top Islamist militants had been killed in Mali.

France believes French Sahel hostages 'alive'
Family and friends of French hostages taken in Mali hold a meeting in Paris. Photo: AFP/Kenzo Tribouillard

Monday's remarks came amid fears for the lives of French hostages in the area following reports over the weekend that Chadian troops had killed Al-Qaeda-linked leaders Abdelhamid Abou Zeid and Mokhtar Belmokhtar in northern Mali.

Speaking about the hostages, Jean-Yves Le Drian told France 2 television: "As we speak, there is every reason to believe they are alive."

Abou Zeid was believed to have been holding four French citizens kidnapped in Niger in 2010, but the French army's chief of staff, Admiral Edouard Guillaud, on Monday said that could not be confirmed.

Responding to Chadian claims that Belmokhtar and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) chief Abou Zeid had recently been killed, Le Drian said he had no "proof of death" for the two men.

"I won't tell you that one or the other is dead because I don't know."

He added that "several hundred" militants had been killed in battles with French-backed troops in northern Mali and confirmed that prisoners had been taken, without going into details.

Saying that he understood "the anguish of the families and their pain", the minister insisted that France was operating "with respect for the lives of the hostages".

Le Drian also said the French government was "actively" working to free seven members of a French family, including four children, who were abducted by Islamists in Cameroon last month.

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French forces tortured and murdered Algerian freedom fighter in 1950s, admits Macron

French forces "tortured and murdered" Algerian freedom fighter Ali Boumendjel during his country's war for independence, President Emmanuel Macron admitted on Tuesday, officially reappraising a death that was covered up as a suicide.

French forces tortured and murdered Algerian freedom fighter in 1950s, admits Macron
Malika, the widow of Ali Boumendjel, pictured in 2001. Photo: Stefan Fferberg/AFP

Macron made the admission “in the name of France” during a meeting with Boumendjel’s grandchildren.

The move comes after Macron in January refused to issue an official apology for abuses committed during the occupation of Algeria – instead, he agreed to form a “truth commission” as recommended by a report commissioned by the government to shed light on France’s colonial past.

Atrocities committed by both sides during the 1954-1962 Algerian war of independence continue to strain relations between the countries.

Boumendjel, a nationalist and lawyer, was arrested during the battle of Algiers by the French army, “placed incommunicado, tortured, and then killed on 23 March 1957,” the Elysee Palace said in a statement.

“Ali Boumendjel did not commit suicide. He was tortured and then killed,” Macron told Boumendjel’s grandchildren, according to the statement.

It is not the first time the real cause of death was acknowledged.

In 2000, the former head of French intelligence in Algiers Paul Aussaresses confessed to ordering Boumendjel’s death and disguising the murder as a suicide, according to the statement.

It added that Macron on Tuesday had also reiterated his desire to give families the opportunity to find out the truth about this chapter of history.

Last month, Boumendjel’s niece Fadela Boumendjel-Chitour denounced what she called the “devastating” lie the French state had told about her uncle.

French historian Benjamin Stora, who wrote the government-commissioned report, has said there is a “never-ending memory war” between the two countries.

The report has been described by the Algerian government as “not objective” and falling “below expectations.”

During his 2017 election campaign, Macron – the first president born after the colonial period – declared that the occupation of Algeria was a “crime against humanity”.

He has since said there was “no question of showing repentance” or of “presenting an apology” for abuses committed in the North African country.