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MALI

‘Dozens held’ in Mali over French journalists’ killing

Police in Mali have arrested around a dozen suspects over the killing of French journalists Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon by "terrorist groups" over the weekend, a police source said on Monday.

'Dozens held' in Mali over French journalists' killing
French RFI journalists Ghislaine Dupont, 57, and Claude Verlon, 55, who were killed by "terrorist groups" in Mali on Saturday. Photo: AFP

"A dozen suspects have been arrested since the murder of two Radio France Internationale (RFI) journalists," said a police source in Gao, the main city in northern Mali.

Radio France Internationale (RFI) journalist Ghislaine Dupont, 57, and sound technician Claude Verlon, 55, were kidnapped and killed by what Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius coined "terrorist groups" in the flashpoint northeastern town of Kidal on Saturday.

Their murder has shaken France, which just days ago was celebrating the return of four hostages who had been held for three years after being abducted in Mali's neighbour Niger.

On Monday, Fabius told RTL radio "operations" were under way in Mali in a bid to "identify a certain number of people in camps."

But a source close to Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian who refused to be named told AFP French forces had "information" that could allow the murderers to be tracked down.

Dupont and Verlon's bodies were found riddled with bullets just hours after they were kidnapped on Saturday, lying by a pick-up truck they had been abducted in.

Fabius said Dupont was killed with two bullets in the chest while Verlon "received three bullets in the head."

"When the French forces arrived behind the pick-up, they saw someone escaping not far away, around 1,500 metres (5,000 feet) away, they followed him but did not catch him."

The arrests came as Malian president  Ibrahim Boubacar Keita vowed that everything would be done to find the killers of the journalists.

 "We will do everything to find the culprits," Keita said as he met in Bamako with members of the management of Radio France Internationale (RFI), the station where the pair worked.

"Today even, we have opened a criminal investigation into the killings and tonight French investigators are expected here to work hand-in-hand with their Malian counterparts," he added.

"We share the shock, we too are overwhelmed by the emotion," he said, announcing that he would attend a ceremony Monday in honour of the journalists and that he would decorate them posthumously on behalf of Mali.

The two veteran journalists had travelled to Kidal to interview a spokesman for the Tuareg separatist group the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), and were abducted outside his home, according to their employer.

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TERRORISM

‘Terrorists’ attack French soldiers in troubled Mali

French soldiers operating in troubled northern Mali were targeted by "terrorists" in an ambush on Sunday, the third attack in the country in just days.

'Terrorists' attack French soldiers in troubled Mali
Smoke and flames ascend from an army armoured vehicle in Gao, northwestern Mali, following an explosion on Sunday. Photo: STRINGER / AFP
The ambush underscores the fragile security situation in the West African nation as it prepares to go to the polls on July 29th.
 
A spokesman for the French military said there were no deaths among the French troops but it was not known if there were other casualties in the attack, which took place in the restive Gao region.
 
“French soldiers of the Barkhane military operation were ambushed by terrorists” near the town of Bourem, a Western military source told AFP, referring to the French mission in the country. 
 
A Malian military source confirmed the incident, which came two days after a deadly attack on the Mali headquarters of a five-nation regional force known as G5 Sahel.
 
Fatouma Wangara, a resident of Gao, said the French convoy was clearly targeted by a suicide car bomb.
 
“An armoured vehicle blocked the way and the car blew up,” she said.
 
Another resident told AFP that the area around the ambush had been sealed off by French soldiers.
 
The attack came as over 40 African heads of state are meeting for an African Union summit in the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott with security high on the agenda.
 
'Hit the heart' of regional security
 
On Friday, a suicide attack on the headquarters of the regional Sahel force known as G5 killed two soldiers and a civilian in the Malian town of Savare. The Al-Qaeda-linked Support Group for Islam and Muslims, the main jihadist alliance in the Sahel, claimed Friday's bombing in a telephone call to the Mauritanian news agency Al-Akhbar. And on Saturday, four Malian soldiers were killed when their vehicle drove over a landmine in the central Mopti region.
 
Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, whose country is part of the G5 and is hosting the two-day AU summit, warned earlier that security failings were hampering the work of the Sahel force. He said Friday's attack “hit the heart” of the region's security and lashed out at a lack of international help.
 
The G5 aims to have a total of 5,000 troops from five nations — Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger — but has faced funding problems. It operates alongside France's 4,000 troops in the troubled “tri-border” area where Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso meet, and alongside the UN's 12,000-strong MINUSMA peacekeeping operation in Mali.
 
Mali's unrest stems from a 2012 ethnic Tuareg separatist uprising, which was exploited by jihadists in order to take over key cities in the north. The extremists were largely driven out in a French-led military operation launched in January 2013.  But large stretches of the country remain out of the control of the foreign and Malian forces, which are frequent targets of attacks, despite a peace accord signed with Tuareg leaders in mid-2015 aimed at isolating the jihadists.
 
The violence has also spilled over into both Burkina Faso and Niger.