Dakar (Senegal): Al Qaeda`s branch in North Africa claimed credit for slaying two French radio journalists who were abducted in northern Mali over the weekend, according to a statement published online. It was an admission of responsibility for a kidnapping that experts said didn`t fit the terrorist network`s usual standards of operation.
A Mali intelligence official involved in the case said investigators believe the kidnapping was the work of a lower-level jihadist trying to return to the good graces of the al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb after being accused of stealing money. The militant is believed to have been reporting to Abdelkarim al-Targui, a prominent Malian in the al-Qaida branch, the official said.
Radio France Internationale`s Ghislaine Dupont, a senior correspondent, and Claude Verlon, a production technician, were kidnapped Saturday. Hours later, their bodies were found next to the abductors` suspected vehicle, which had broken down, outside the town of Kidal, where they had just finishing interviewing an ethnic Tuareg rebel leader before being taken.
The al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb claim of responsibility was reported on the website of Sahara Media, a portal previously used by the jihadists. It said the journalists were killed in retaliation for the "daily crimes" committed by French and Malian forces in northern Mali, where France launched a military operation in January to flush out the Islamic extremists.
"The organisation considers that this is the least of the price which (French) President Francois Hollande and his people will pay for their new crusade," the statement attributed to the terror cell says.
The website identifies the militant brigade responsible for the killings as that of Targui.
Targui is a native of the Kidal region and one of the few Malian nationals who has risen to prominence in the al-Qaida branch, which is led almost exclusively by Algerian extremists.
He is believed responsible for the previous kidnappings of two French nationals, Philippe Verdon and Serge Lazarevic, who were taken from the town of Hombori in northern Mali in 2011.
Lazarevic remains in captivity. Verdon was executed earlier this year.