An exclusive investigation into the assassination of RFI's Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon shows discrepancies between the official version given by the French Army and what RFI's sources say actually happened in November 2013 in Mali.
The investigation carried out by RFI's David Baché, Pierre Firtion and Marie-Pierre Olphand reveals that the French Special Forces were on the ground in and around Mali's northern city of Kidal after the assassination of journalists Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon.
They were the first to be informed of the abduction and murder of the two journalists while official statements given by the French Army never mention the involvement of the Special Forces.
Dupont and Verlon were kidnapped around 1:00 PM on 2 November 2013 after they interviewed Ambery Ag Rhissa from the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA).
Ambery "immediately" contacted a French military "Commander Charles" posted in Kidal. He, in turn, alerted MINUSMA, the United Nations Mission in Mali, which ordered the checkpoints closed at the exits of the city.
UN call to French military
RFI got hold of a United Nations document that confirms that UN peacekeepers received "a call from Commander Charles of the Sabre Forces at 1:15 PM". The Sabre Forces are French Special Forces in charge of anti-terrorist missions in the Sahel.
The UN official also said that a UN battalion chased the kidnappers and that the "Special Forces took over" seven kilometres from Kidal.
RFI tracked down the UN official in 2019. He said the French military team which took over from the US blue helmets consisted of three men in light armoured vehicles with 50 calibre machine guns.
This contradicts the official version of the French Army which describes a convoy of six armoured vehicles and thirty men in pursuit of the kidnappers.
The French Army maintains that the French convoy received orders to track the kidnappers at 1:55 PM - that's 40 minutes after the abduction was made known.
The French military on the crime scene, officially, informed their superiors of the death of the two RFI journalists at 2:50 PM.
Various testimonies of politicians, journalists, military contradicts this official timeline established by the French Army.
Moreover, the French judge in charge of the investigation obtained detailed telecommunications bills from Malian phone operators. They confirm that the information regarding Dupont and Verlon was made known as from 1:43 PM.
Special Forces helicopters
A former member of the DGSE, the French intelligence agency, told RFI that helicopter units from the Special Forces were the first on the ground and that "this commando discovered the corpses."
None of the various French military RFI interrogated deny this statement. A former member of the regular French forces in Mali (the Serval Forces) told RFI that in the case of "high profile targets, it is systematically the Special Forces" which are involved.
The French investigators found that the four jihadists who abducted Dupont and Verlon killed them and left the bodies because their vehicle broke down.
According to Gilles Jaron, spokesman for the Chief of the Defence Staff, the French military in Mali "had no visual or physical contact with getaway vehicles".
But Fawaz ould Ahmed ould Aheid, nicknamed Ibrahim no. 10, a former chief of operations for the Al Mourabitoune jihadist group, was interrogated by the Malian police. He told them that the car of the abductors broke down after leaving Kidal and that there were "clashes with Serval".
Another jihadist, Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, nicknamed Abou Tourab from Ansar Dine spoke to the jihadists claiming the killings. One of them, Abdelkrim al-Targui, told him that "the abduction failed, the kidnappers killed the hostages without his orders."
The kidnappers told Al Targui that they were chased by a helicopter and that they almost got caught. "They went into the desert after killing the hostages."
RFI's sources within the intelligence service confirm the presence of the helicopter unit.
But the French Army denies that. Officially, two French helicopters flew over the area but they took off from Tessalit base and only reached the crime scene around 3:30 PM.
A member of the judicial investigation told RFI that he had the impression that the French soldiers were "hiding something".
"It is linked to the official secret act. They know that they cannot talk. They feel cornered. They think 50 times before talking," which is "not necessarily suspicious", according to the source.
"Everything was done to carry out this mission. They didn't waste time. They were professional... but it just didn't turn out well."