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TERRORISM

French hostage killed by ‘single shot to head’

Paris prosecutors said on Thursday that French hostage Philippe Verdon, whose body was flown back to France from Mali this week, was executd by a single shot to the head. Verdon had been kidnapped by Islamist extremists from Al-Qaeda in 2011.

French hostage killed by 'single shot to head'
Philippe Verdon, the French hostage who is believed to have been killed by Al-Qaeda. Photo: Youssouf Ibrahim/AFP

French hostage Philippe Verdon, who was kidnapped by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in Mali in 2011 and found dead several weeks ago, was executed with a shot to the head, prosecutors said on Thursday.

"After the return of the body to France, the autopsy… was able to establish that Philippe Verdon was murdered by being shot in the head," the Paris prosecutors' office said.

The body of Verdon, who suffered from an ulcer and tachycardia, an abnormally fast heartbeat, was flown back to Paris on Wednesday.

The possibility had previously been raised that he had died from his ailments and that his killing had been staged.

The 53-year-old was taken from a hotel in northeastern Mali in November 2011 by AQIM while on business, as was Serge Lazarevic, another French national.

His captors announced in March they had killed him in revenge for France's military intervention in the country.

But Paris had never confirmed this until his body was discovered in the country's north and identified this month.

French forces intervened in Mali in January to help the weak Malian military drive out Islamist rebels who had seized control of the country's north, angering extremists.

At least seven French citizens remain captive in Africa, with another two in Syria.

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TERRORISM

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks

US Vice President Kamala Harris and French Prime Minister Jean Castex laid wreaths at a Paris cafe and France's national football stadium Saturday six years since deadly terror attacks that left 130 people dead.

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks
US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff lay flowers after ceremonies at Le Carillon bar and Le Petit Cambodge restaurant, at which 130 people were killed during the 2015 Paris terror attacks. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/POOL/AFP

The attacks by three separate teams of Islamic State group jihadists on the night of November 13, 2015 were the worst in France since World War II.

Gunmen mowed down 129 people in front of cafes and at a concert hall in the capital, while a bus driver was killed after suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the stadium in its suburbs.

Harris, wrapping up a four-day trip to France, placed a bouquet of white flowers in front of a plaque honouring the victims outside a Paris cafe.

Castex attended a minute of silence at the Stade de France football stadium, along with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, before laying wreaths at the sites of the other attacks inside Paris.

In front of the Bataclan concert hall, survivors and relatives of the victims listened to someone read out the names of each of the 90 people killed during a concert there six years ago.

Public commemorations of the tragedy were called off last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Last year we weren’t allowed to come and we all found it really tough,” said Bruno Poncet, who made it out alive of the Bataclan.

But he said the start of a trial over the attacks in September meant that those attending the commemoration this year felt more united.

‘Overcome it all’

“We’ve really bonded thanks to the trial,” he said. “During previous commemorations, we’d spot each other from afar without really daring to speak to each other. We were really shy. But standing up in court has really changed everything.”

The marathon trial, the biggest in France’s modern legal history, is expected to last until May 2022.

Twenty defendants are facing sentences of up to life in prison, including the sole attacker who was not gunned down by police, Salah Abdeslam, a French-Moroccan national who was captured in Brussels. Six of the defendants are being tried in absentia.

Poncet said he felt it was crucial that he attend the hearings. “I can’t possibly not. It’s our lives that are being discussed in that room, and it’s important to come to support the others and to try to overcome it all.”

Survivors have taken to the witness stand to recount the horror of the attacks, but also to describe life afterwards.

Several said they had been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, grappling with survivor’s guilt, or even feeling alienated from the rest of society.

Saturday’s commemorations are to wrap up with a minute of silence at the Stade de France in the evening before the kick-off for a game between France and Kazakhstan.

It was during a football match between France and Germany that three suicide bombers blew themselves up in 2015.

Then-French president Francois Hollande was one of the 80,000 people in the crowd, before he was discreetly whisked away to avoid triggering mass panic.

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