French journalists abducted, slain by militants in Mali

DAKAR, Senegal — Gunmen abducted and killed two French radio journalists on assignment in northern Mali on Saturday, grabbing the pair as they left the home of a rebel leader, French and Malian officials said.

The deaths came four days after France rejoiced at the release of four of its citizens who had been held for three years by al-Qaida’s affiliate in North Africa.

It was not clear who killed the Radio France Internationale journalists. France launched a military intervention in January in its former colony to try to oust jihadists from power in Kidal and other towns across northern Mali. Separatist rebels have since returned to the area.

French President Francois Hollande expressed his “indignation at this odious act.”

Claude Verlon and Ghislaine Dupont were grabbed by several armed men in a 4×4 after they finished an interview, officials said.

Their bodies were dumped a dozen miles outside the town on the road leading to Tinessako, a community to the east of Kidal, according to a person who saw the bodies and four officials briefed on the matter.

Earlier Saturday, radio station RFI confirmed the kidnappings on its website, saying that Dupont, 51, and Verlon, 58, were taken at 1 p.m. by armed men in Kidal and had not been heard from since.

France opened a judicial investigation into the kidnappings and deaths “linked to a terrorist enterprise,” the prosecutor’s office said.

In numerous past kidnappings in the West African country, Westerners have been taken hostage and held for ransom — not quickly executed.

“From the information I have, their throats were cut. We don’t know for sure who took them, but the reports we are hearing indicate that they were Islamists,” said Lassana Camara, the deputy prefect of Tinessako.

Several Kidal officials interviewed by telephone said that the RFI journalists were abducted after an interview at the house of Ambeiry Ag Rhissa, the acting head of the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, or NMLA, a Tuareg separatist movement whose rebels invaded northern Mali last year. Those rebels were later chased out by al-Qaida’s fighters in the region but have returned to prominence in Kidal in recent months.

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