French war reporter who witnessed shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald has died

A veteran French war reporter who was a witness in Dallas to the fatal shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald has died at the age of 94.

French war reporter who witnessed shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald has died
Francois Pelou, pictured at Orly airport in Paris in 1970. Photo: AFP

In 1963, Francois Pelou, who also covered the wars in Korea and Vietnam for Agence France-Presse (AFP), was the first French journalist sent to Dallas from New York the day after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. 

Two days later, he was an eyewitness to Oswald's shooting by nightclub owner Jack Ruby in the basement of the Dallas police headquarters.

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Francois Pelou has died at the age of 94. Photo: AFP

Describing the killing, Pelou said he saw “on the chest, on the black sweater worn by Oswald… the small flash of the revolver of his assassin”.

Ruby “knocked into me in order to kill Oswald. He did not shoot to injure, in a fit of anger, but to kill”, he said.

Oswald “was the first to see his killer arrive, which is why I always felt like they knew each other”, he added.

Pelou covered Ruby's trial the following year and was called as a witness by the Warren Commission set up by President Lyndon B. Johnson to investigate Kennedy's assassination.

“Francois died on Saturday at his home in Conques-en-Rouergue,” Pelou's wife Caroline told AFP by phone from the south of France. 

In Vietnam, where he met the famous Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci with whom he had a long relationship, he covered the Tet Offensive – the surprise assault launched by the communist north targeting more than 100 cities and outposts in southern Vietnam.

“The bazooka fire shook our building… a few minutes of respite and tacatactac… the AK-47 opened fire straightaway,” he wrote in a despatch.

The offensive eventually prompted the US to withdraw from the war and was a military disaster for Hanoi which lost an estimated 58,000 fighters.

“The American and governmental vulnerability demonstrated after the undeniable Vietcong victory in the first phase of their offensive, is likely to be an important factor in Vietnamese political life. American power has lost its prestige,” he added.

Fallaci dedicated her book Nothing and So Be It on the Vietnam war to Pelou.

“Oriana Fallaci arrived in my bureau in 1967. We covered many events together, she would become very important in my life,” he told Toulouse's La Depeche daily in 2016.

Pelou was left with a lifelong limp after being hit in the leg by shrapnel while in Vietnam.

During his career, Pelou also covered Mexico and Brazil where he was jailed for having revealed the details of a ransom deal under which dozens of political prisoners were freed to secure the release of a kidnapped ambassador.

He was expelled in December 1970 for “activities contrary to national security”.

Posted to Madrid in 1975, he was among the first international journalists to announce the death of dictator Francisco Franco who had ruled Spain with an iron fist from the end of the country's civil war.

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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.