MS Risk Blog

Last French Hostage Appears in New AQIM Video

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A television station in Dubai has released a video of a French hostage kidnapped in Mali by al-Qaeda militants.  He is believed to be the last French hostage held worldwide.

The video, which aired Tuesday by Dubai-based Akhbar Al Aan television, depicts Serve Lazarevic, who was abducted in 2011.  During the video, Mr Lazarevic states “I take this opportunity today may 13 2014 to call on Francois Hollande, the president of France, to do everything to negotiate my release.”  He also states that he is “suffering from several health problems and from difficult environmental conditions.”  In the video, Mr Lazarevic, who is a dual French and Serbian national, is seen wearing a black turban and is accompanied by two masked gunmen.  French authorities have acknowledged the video, stating that it’s authenticity is currently being examined by French officials.

Mr Lazarevic, 50 years old, was kidnapped along with another Frenchman, Philippe Verdon, on 24 November 2011.  The two men were seized at gunpoint by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) militants at a small hotel in the town of Hombori, which is located in central Mali.  According to his relatives, Mr Lazarevic had been accompanying Mr Verdon on a business trip.  Mr Verdon was killed in July last year.  His body was discovered in northern Mali, with French prosecutors later indicating that he had been shot in the head.  At the time of his death, AQIM, which often takes Western hostages in a bid to gain ransom payments to fund their terrorist operations, indicated that it had killed Mr Verdon in retaliation for France’s intervention.  Mr Lazarevic is believed to be the last Frenchman held in captivity worldwide.  Another French hostage, Gilberto Rodrigues Leal, was killed in April 2014 after being held in captivity since 2012.  He was also kidnapped by al-Qaeda-linked militants in Mali.  Last October, following secret talks led by negotiators in Niger, four French hostages seized by al-Qaeda-linked gunmen in Niger were released.  One of the four hostages, Theirry Dol, later described spending almost a month with Mr Lazarevic before being freed, however the two men were not allowed to talk.  While reports indicated that a ransom payment was made for the release of the four hostages, the French government has denied these reports.

While French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius recently indicated that the French government was working discreetly to find Mr Lazarevic, Tuesday’s video is not only a proof of life but also a clear signal to France to begin serious negotiations.

France deployed troops to Mali in January 2013 after al-Qaeda-linked militants threatened to take over the capital city, Bamako.