Five and a half years after RFI reporters Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon were killed after being abducted by jihadis near Kidal, in northern Mali, on 2 November 2013, RFI’s latest investigative reporting has cast serious doubt on the French army’s account of their deaths.
RFI reports that the French special forces were directly involved and, according to an intelligence source quoted by RFI, a special forces helicopter was the first to arrive at the scene of the abduction. Jihadis who were in contact with the abduction’s alleged mastermind are quoted by RFI as saying the abductors were pursued by a helicopter and that there was a “skirmish” between the abductors and French forces.
All this contradicts the account provided by the French military which, until now, has denied that there was ever any visual contact with the abductors and has insisted that French helicopters did not arrive at the scene until much later in the day.
“There is a significant gulf between the version of events provided by the French army and this journalistic account,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “Given the inconsistencies and the many documents that are still classified, the precise role of the French forces in the events leading to the deaths of the two journalists has still to be established by the judicial investigation already under way."
“The need to respect military confidentiality has repeatedly been cited during the judicial investigation but with what aim, to protect national security or to cover up the truth? If currently classified information would shed light on the sequence of events on 2 November 2013, the victims’ families have a right to know it and the investigation has a duty to reveal it.”
Declassification requests have yet to turn up a telephone call recording that former President François Hollande mentioned in a passing to journalists, a recording in which the supposed mastermind reportedly criticized one of the presumed abductors for “destroying the merchandise.”
No such recording appears in the investigation case file and when Hollande and Bernard Bajolet, the former head of the French General Directorate for External Security (DGSE), testified to the enquiry in last December and January, neither acknowledged its existence, blaming a “misinterpretation” on the part of the journalists.
Mali is ranked 112th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.