20 March 2013

Mali: Hollande Summons Defence Chiefs After Al Qaeda Hostage Execution Claim

President François Hollande called a meeting of France's top defence committee Wednesday morning after Al-Qaeda's north African branch (Aqim) claimed that it has killed a French hostage captured in Mali.

As the French defence ministry sought to confirm Aqim's claim that it killed Philippe Verdon on 10 March, Hollande summoned military and intelligence chiefs and Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, Foreign Affairs

Minister Laurent Fabius and Interior Minister Manuel Valls to a crisis meeting.

An Aqim spokesperson told the Mauritania-based ANI news agency on Tuesday that it had executed Verdon, whom he dubbed a "spy", as a reprisal for the French intervention in Mali.

"The French president Hollande is responsible for the life of the other French hostages," he said.

There are currently 15 French hostages in Africa and Aqim has claimed to be holding six of them, including Verdon.

Verdon's father, Jean-Pierre, who was told of the claim by the foreign ministry at 01.00am on Wednesday said he was "very moved" by the announcement and was awaiting confirmation.

Verdon's family have always denied any connections with the secret services.

ANI has a large network of sources in the region and its reports have until now proved to be true.

At the beginning of March the French army admitted that it did not know the whereabouts of the hostages in the Sahara region.

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