Al-Qaeda in ‘plausible’ claim over French deaths

France said on Thursday it was "plausible" that Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the north African division of the terrorist network, had killed two French journalists in Mali last weekend - as the group earlier claimed.

Al-Qaeda in 'plausible' claim over French deaths
Malian soldiers carry the coffin of two French journalists killed on November 2nd. France said on Thursday that Al Qaeda responsibility claims were "plausible." Photo: Sirpa Terre/AFP

"We're in the process of verifying it, but it seems plausible," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told French television on Thursday, referring to the claim over the murders of Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon in the flashpoint northeastern town of Kidal on Saturday.

Al-Qaeda's north African division claimed responsibility Wednesday for the murders of two French journalists in Mali's rebel-infested desert, saying they were killed to avenge France's "new crusade" in its former colony.

Ghislaine Dupont, 57, and Claude Verlon, 55, were kidnapped and shot dead by what French officials called "terrorist groups" after interviewing a spokesman for Tuareg separatists in the flashpoint northeastern town of Kidal on Saturday.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said in a statement published online by Mauritanian news agency Sahara Medias the killings were "the minimum debt" owed by the French people and President Francois Hollande "in return for their new crusade".

"This operation was a response to crimes committed by France against Malians and the work of African and international forces against the Muslims of Azawad," AQIM said, using the name given by the Tuareg people to northern Mali.

In response, a communications official in the French presidency told AFP the country would "use all its resources to ensure these crimes do not go unpunished, no matter who is responsible."

AQIM said the murders had been carried out by a unit led by Tuareg commander Abdelkrim Targui, who was close to Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, one of AQIM's main leaders in Mali who was killed fighting the French army in northern Mali in late February.

Abou Zeid, who was 46, was credited with having significantly expanded the jihadist group's field of operations to Tunisia and Niger, and for kidnappings across the region.

The claim came a day after the bodies of the Radio France Internationale (RFI) journalists were flown back to Paris, with French and Malian troops intensifying the hunt for their killers.

A French military patrol found Dupont and Verlon's bodies about 12 kilometres (seven miles) east of Kidal, just hours after they were snatched, lying by the pick-up truck in which they had been abducted.

They had been interviewing a spokesman for the main armed separatist group in the region, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad.

The killings have shaken France, which just days earlier was celebrating the return of four hostages who had been held for three years after being abducted by AQIM in Mali's neighbour Niger.

'Dozens of arrests made'

A French source said seven investigators, including intelligence and police officials, had been sent to Mali to assist in the investigation.

"An inquiry has been swiftly launched. Operations, searches have taken place and investigations are progressing," Hollande told a cabinet meeting in Paris on Wednesday, according to government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem.

A member of the Malian security forces said on Tuesday that "at least 35" suspects had been arrested over the previous 48 hours in connection with the murders, while a local government source in Kidal put the figure at "a few dozen".

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Swedish prosecutors upgrade Almedalen knife attack to terror crime

Prosecutors in Sweden are now treating the murder at the Almedalen political festival as a terror crime, with the country's Säpo security police taking over the investigation.

Swedish prosecutors upgrade Almedalen knife attack to terror crime

In a press release issued on Monday evening, the Swedish Prosecution Authority, said that the 32-year-old attacker, Theodor Engström, was now suspected of the crime of “terrorism through murder”, and also “preparation for a terror crime through preparation for murder”. 

Engström stabbed the psychiatrist Ing-Marie Wieselgren last Wednesday as she was on her way to moderate a seminar at the Almedalen political festival on the island of Gotland. 

Although he was a former member of the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement, police said his motive seemed to be to protest against Sweden’s psychiatry services, who he felt had treated his own mental illness badly. 

The release gave no details as to why the 32-year-old was now being investigated for a more serious crime, but terror expert Magnus Ranstorp told the Expressen newspaper that the shift indicated that police had uncovered new evidence. 

READ ALSO: What do we now know about the Almedalen knife attack? 

“The new crime classification means that they’ve either found a political motive for the attack which meets the threshold for terrorism, and that might be a political motive for murdering Ing-Marie Wieselgren,” he said. “Or they might have discovered that he was scouting out a politician, or another target that could be considered political.” 

Engström’s defence lawyer said last week that his client, who he described as disturbed and incoherent, had spoken in police interrogations of having “a higher-up target”.