MUJAO Kidnap Victim Believed Dead in MaliApril 23, 2014 in Africa, Mali
23 April, 2014: The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) has announced that a French hostage, Gilberto Leal Rodrigues, has died. In November 2012, Leal Rodrigues was kidnapped by armed men near the western town of Kayes in Mali, as he was driving a camper van from Mauritania.
In a brief telephone interview, a spokesman for MUJAO, Yoro Abdoul Salam, gave no details surrounding the date or circumstances of Gilberto Leal Rodrigues’ death, only saying, he “is dead because France is our enemy”. Sources say that when Salam was pressed for evidence, such as pictures or video footage of the body, he said, “in the name of Allah, he is dead”, before hanging up.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius had vocalised concern for the 62-year old victim only days earlier. “We haven’t had any news for a long time. We are in contact with the family but we are extremely worried,” he said.
MUJAO, a Mali-based offshoot of al Qaeda, is one of several hard-line Islamist groups that occupied the vast desert north of Mali along with Taureg separatist rebels in 2012, following a military coup. The Islamists then overtook the Taureg fight and began to advance toward Bamako, instigating a French-led intervention which pushed the militants out of the region. France and other nations have continued anti-insurgency operations. Last week, French forces successfully freed five Malian aid workers who were taken hostage in a February kidnapping claimed by MUJAO, and in the past month French soldiers have killed about 40 Islamist fighters, including some senior commanders in Mali.
France is beginning to wind down the presence of soldiers to approximately 1000 troops; however sources suspect that MUJAO and other militias are regrouping. President François Hollande has that Rodrigues Leal’s death will “not go unpunished”. In a statement, Hollande said, “France will do everything to know the truth about what happened to Gilberto Leal Rodrigues and she will not let it pass unpunished […] There is every reason to believe that our fellow died several weeks [ago] because of the conditions of his detention.”
Spokesman of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Romain Nadal said in a statement, “We condemn in the strongest possible action of this terrorist group way.”