French Ministry Announces Possible Death of French Hostage; Canadian Released from Mauritanian JailJuly 16, 2013 in Africa, Mali, Mauritania
The French foreign ministry announced on Sunday in Paris that the body of a French hostage, who was announced killed by his al-Qaeda captors back in March of this year, has “very likely” been found in Mali. The announcement was followed by French leaders vowing that “we will determine the cause of death and nothing will go unpunished.” While in Mauritania, a Canadian has been released after being charged with having links to al-Qaeda militants in Mali.
Tests are currently being done in order to confirm if the body, which was found in early July, is in fact that of Philippe Verdon, who was kidnapped by militants belonging to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) from a hotel while on a business trip in northeastern Mali in November 2011. Foreign ministry spokesman Philippe Lallot indicated on Sunday that “there is a very strong possibility that a body recently found in northern Mali is unfortunately that” of Mr. Verdon. Earlier on Sunday, French President Francois Hollande also noted in an interview that Mr. Verdon had appeared to have been killed, stating that “we have the worst of news on Philippe Verdon…everything indicates that he died weeks ago.” According to reports, the body was found ten days ago in northern Mali.
In March of this year, AQIM announced that it had killed 53-year-old Verdon, however French authorities had not officially confirmed his death at the time. With the announcement of a possible confirmation of the death of Philippe Verdon, it is necessary to note that AQIM is still holding eight Europeans hostage, including five French nationals. Theirry Dol, Daniel Larribe, Pierre Legrand and Marc Feret, who were mostly working for French public nuclear giant Areva and its subcontractor Satom, were kidnapped in Niger by al-Qaeda-linked militants on 16 September 2010. Francoise Larribe, wife of Daniel Larribe, was also captured, however she was released in 2011. The fifth French hostage, Serge Lazarevic, was kidnapped along with Mr. Verdon on the night of 24 November 2011 while they were staying at their hotel in Hombori. In late June of this year, AQIM indicated that the eight Europeans were still alive and that they would soon release a new video depicting the five Frenchmen. However no video has yet been released and their current whereabouts remain unknown.
The families of the two men have insisted that they were no mercenaries or secret service agents however AQIM has firmly indicated that they were killed because of their role as spies for the French government. In response to the possible death of Mr. Verdon and the other hostages who remain in captivity, President Hollande indicated on Sunday that France was “doing everything” to bring the hostages back.
Meanwhile in Mauritania, a court on Sunday freed a Canadian who was jailed for attempting to join an al-Qaeda training camp in neighbouring Mali.
Aaron Yoon was serving two years in Nouakchott after he was convicted in July of last year, however his sentence was later reduced in an appeal brought by the prosecution who were asking for the term to be extended to ten years. According to a source, “the Canadian Aaron Yoon was sentenced by an appeals court on Sunday to a year and a half in prison but he was already spent his time in jail and must therefore leave the penitentiary immediately.”
According to the indictment against him, Mr. Yoon was originally arrested in December 2011 when he attempted to visit the camps of AQIM in Mali. He however has denied any links to terrorism, stating that he had come to mauritania from Morocco in order to study the Koran and to learn Arabic. However authorities in Mauritania have maintained that he had “strong links with AQIM terrorists and his plan to join the movement is indisputable.” A judicial source further noted that “we cannot say how and when but he must leave the prison and will probably be removed from the country.” There is currently no information as to whether Mr. Yoon will return to Canada.