Al-Qaeda’s north African branch has released a video depicting seven kidnapped Westerners. The video was received by Mauritanian news agency ANI, which indicates that all the captives seemed to be in good health. France’s Foreign Ministry has announced that the hostage video seems to be “credible.”
The newly released video depicts seven hostages, including four Frenchmen and a Dutchman, who were kidnapped from a uranium compound in northern Niger exactly three years ago; along with a Swede and a South African who were abducted from a hostel in Timbuktu in northern Mali November 2011 in an attack that left a German man dead. In the video, which was released to Mauritanian news agency ANI, Frenchman Daniel Larribe, 61, introduces himself as the head of the French group, stating that he was kidnapped by militants belonging to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). According to ANI, Mr. Larribe states that he is “…in good health but threatened with death,” adding that he holds the French authorities responsible for his fate. The video also includes statements from the other French hostages, including Pierre Legrand, Theirry Dol and Marc Feret as well as South African Stephen Malcolm, Dutchman Sjaak Rijke and Swede Johna Gustafsson. It also shows the French hostages reportedly urging the French administration, as well as their family members, to work for their release. At the time of their kidnapping, the four Frenchmen were mostly working for French public nuclear giant Areva and its subcontractor Satom. They were kidnapped in Arlit, northern Niger, on 16 September 2010. At the time, Daniel’s wife, Francoise Larribe, was also captured however she was released in 2011.
Although it remains unclear when the video was made, officials from ANI have indicated that the messages recorded by the French hostages were made in June of this year. Furthermore, this is the first video that is said to depict the men since France launched an intervention in Mali in January after al-Qaeda-linked militants threatened to overrun the capital Bamako.
According French Foreign Ministry spokesman, Philippe Lalliot, “based on an initial analysis, the video seems credible to us and provides new proof of life of the four French hostages kidnaped in Arlit (northern Niger) on September 16, 2010,” adding that the footage was being authenticated.
AQIM is currently believed to be holding eight European hostages, including five French nationals. According to French prosecutors, one of the French hostages, Philippe Verdon, who was kidnapped in Mali in 2011 and found dead earlier this year, was executed with a shot to the head. Officials in France believe that his killing was in retaliation to France’s intervention in Mali. A fifth hostage, Serge Lazarevic, was kidnapped along with Mr. Verdon from their hotel in Hombori on the night of 24 November 2011. Shortly after their kidnapping, the families of the two men insisted that they were not mercenaries or secret service agents. These comments were in response to threats made by AQIM militants stating that the two hostages would be killed as they were French spies.
While the newly released video depicts the pleas of the French hostages for their release, it is highly unlikely that the French government will get involved, and that their plight will be publicly discussed. Although in July of this year French President Francois Hollande announced that France was “doing everything” to bring the hostages back, he indicated that officials would “…not talk so as not to complicate a situation which is bad enough.”
Unconfirmed reports have indicated that a French hostage has been executed in Mali. A man claiming to be a spokesman for al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has stated in a telephone call to Mauritania’s Agence Nouakchott d’Information (ANI) news agency that Philippe Verdon was “killed on 10 March 2013 in response to the French military intervention in the north of Mali.” Although the news agency could not confirm whether or not the spokesman is in fact a member of AQIM, ANI did confirm that they had received a phone call from a man who presented himself as Al-Qairawani and who claimed that the “spy” Verdon had been executed. He further stated that “the French President Hollande is responsible for the lives of the other French hostages.” In the past, al-Qaeda groups have often used ANI in order to broadcast their claims or statements, which often turn out to be true.
Mr. Verdon was seized on the night of 24 November 2011 along with Serge Lazarevic. According to their families, the two men had been on a business trip when they were kidnapped from their hotel in Hombori, in northeastern Mali. The families of the two men have however denied that they were secret service agents. Shortly after the kidnapping, AQIM claimed responsibility and in August 2012, a video depicting Mr. Verdon describing the “difficult living conditions” was released.
Early Wednesday morning, a French Foreign Office spokesman indicated that they were attempting to verify the reports of the killing. Currently, no further information has been provided however a spokesman for the French Foreign Office has confirmed that the family of Mr. Verdon has been notified. If these reports are confirmed to be true, it will be a worrying development for Paris as it will greatly increase the risk of those hostages who are being held in Africa. There are still some fourteen French nationals who are being held in West Africa, including at least six who are being held in the Sahel by AQIM and its affiliates. Over the past few weeks, a number of the hostages‘ families have expressed their growing fears for their loved ones in light of the ongoing French intervention in Mali.