Prime suspect in murder of RFI journalists killed by French strike in northern Mali

An al-Qaeda jihadist leader responsible for the kidnapping and murder of French journalists Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon in 2013 has been killed in a French army attack in northern Mali, French Defense Minister Florence Parly said Friday.

Parly said French troops in the Sahel region had killed “four terrorists” on June 5 in an operation in northern Mali, including Bayes Ag Bakabo, the prime suspect in the deaths of French journalists Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon.

“His neutralization marks the end of a long wait,” Parly said.

Dupont and Verlon were journalists at Radio France International (RFI), a sister station of FRANCE 24, reporting in northern Mali when they were kidnapped in November 2013. interviewing a separatist Tuareg leader.

Their bullet-riddled bodies were found a few hours later, with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) group claiming the killings were revenge for France’s decision to intervene against jihadist groups in the country earlier that year.

A French investigation into the murders concluded that Bakabo, also a known drug trafficker, was driving the pickup truck used to kidnap the two journalists.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced a major withdrawal of French troops in the Sahel region on Thursday, which will significantly reduce the current 5,100-strong force.

France, the former colonial power, has had some success against Sahel militants in recent months, but the situation is extremely fragile and Paris has become frustrated with no clear end in sight to its operations and political unrest, especially in Mali .

The decision came days after the Malian army, Colonel Assimi Goita, came to power following his overthrow of a second president in nine months and mounting criticism of some governments that negotiated with militants.

( Jowhar with AFP and REUTERS)