Baye Ag Bakabo, an executive of the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI) group — believed to be behind the kidnapping and subsequent deaths of two French journalists Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlondeaths on November 2, 2013, in Kidal was killed on Saturday by France’s military operation.
“On 5 June, Barkhane soldiers detected the preparation of a terrorist attack in Aguelhok, in northern Mali” against a UN compound and “eliminated four terrorists”, including “Baye Ag Bakabo, an Aqmi executive and responsible for the kidnapping of our fellow citizens”, she said.
“His neutralisation puts an end to a long wait”, the minister commented, sending her “thoughts to the families and loved ones” of the two journalists.
On 2 November 2013, the two French journalists from Radio France Internationale (RFI), aged 57 and 55 respectively, were kidnapped during a report and then killed, a few months after the French operation Serval aimed at stopping an armed column of jihadists threatening to take over Bamako.
Their bodies were found less than two hours later a dozen kilometres away. On 6 November, Aqmi claimed responsibility for their killing. But the precise circumstances of their deaths have never been clarified.
Last month, their relatives called for “a public debate in parliament” on the “defence secrecy” which they said was hampering the investigation into the case. Shortly before, the former UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Agnès Callamard, had also expressed her “deep concern about the lack of justice” in the French investigation into the double murder.
In particular, she deplored the absence of an international arrest warrant despite the identification of the suspects “for several years”. But also “the lack of cooperation on the part of the French military authorities – in the context of the protection of defence secrets – and the Malian authorities”.
– Bringing down the chiefs” –
Baye Ag Bakabo is not the first Sahelian jihadist figure to fall under French fire. The historic leader of Aqmi, the Algerian Abdelmalek Droukdal, was killed in June. A fate also reserved in November for Ba Ag Moussa, described as the “military leader” of the Group of Support for Islam and Muslims (GSIM), affiliated to Al-Qaeda, and a “historical framework of the jihadist movement in the Sahel.
In the eyes of some, the move legitimises the major strategic shift announced on Thursday by President Macron and illustrates one of France’s main priorities in the Sahel: to bring down the main leaders of the terrorist groups operating in the region — the GSIM (Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin) and the EIGS (Islamic State in the Greater Sahara), linked to Daech.
All this as a lighter international unit to support and accompany local troops in combat against terrorism is to replace the recently declared withdrawal of the presence of the French anti-jihadist Barkhane operation in the Sahel.
A special unit that should combine an increase in European assistance and a major investment by African powers.
In concrete terms, France no longer wishes to try to secure vast areas where states are unable to maintain a foothold and instead wishes to concentrate on the targeted fight against jihadists. A reorientation that comes as the 2022 presidential election approaches and the military effort raises increasing questions in France, especially in light of the 50 soldiers killed in combat since 2013.
“The objective remains: France remains committed against international terrorism, alongside Sahelian countries, and for the security of Europe and the French,” Parly concluded.
And she continues to pursue the leaders, including those with whom the ruling military in Bamako wants to negotiate. In particular Iyad Ag Ghaly, leader of the GSIM, responsible for numerous attacks in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, clearly designated as France’s priority target.