Mali. Secret defense on the death of two French journalists

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Kidal in Mali, November 2, 2013. Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon repackage their equipment. The journalist and the technician from Radio France Internationale (RFI) are well aware of the region and the political antagonisms, the difficult relations between the different communities and their representatives. As seasoned professionals, RFI’s special envoys want to meet the various protagonists in a country where the Islamists have gained a lot of ground and where the Tuareg rebellion is playing on its affinities with France.

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The French army will find their bodies riddled with bullets

That day, our colleagues just finished an interview with Ambéry Ag Rhissa, one of the leaders of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), based in Kidal, more than 1,500 kilometers northeast of Bamako, near the border with Algeria, and cradle of the Tuareg community. Barely out, Ghislaine and Claude are loaded into a pick-up by four armed men. A few hours later, the French army will find their bodies, riddled with bullets. A double murder claimed by Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqmi).

“The implementation of defense secrecy hampered the judicial investigation, substituted a certain arbitrariness for access to justice, and resulted in enormous prejudice for the families of the two victims. »Agnès Callamard

Eight years after their deaths, the investigation is continuing and justice has still not been served. Many questions remain unanswered. They invariably crash against the wall of “secret defense” regularly opposed, as underlined by the association of Friends of Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon. For Danièle Gonod, its president, “2021 was marked by several major events”. In March, when she left the post of special rapporteur to the UN on extrajudicial crimes, Agnès Callamard had published a letter on France’s failings concerning the work of justice on this file. She noted that “the implementation of defense secrecy has hampered the judicial investigation, substituted a certain arbitrariness for access to justice, and resulted in enormous prejudice for the families of the two victims”.

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Baye Ag Bakabo’s death is a form of impunity

In June, we learned of the death of Baye Ag Bakabo, the alleged leader of the commando who had kidnapped and killed our colleagues from RFI. Florence Parly, Minister of the Armed Forces, then welcomed “the end of a long wait” for families and loved ones. As if families were seeking revenge at the expense of the truth. For Danièle Gonod, this shows that “the objectives of the army and the objectives of justice in the rule of law are clearly very different. Baye Ag Bakabo’s death prevents some of the truth from coming to light. For us, what matters is the truth. However, this death is, in a way, a form of impunity. For it further reduces the chances of achieving truth and justice. Especially since Baye Ag B akabo is a rather troubled character and we will not have any clarification on the role he played and on the possibility that he was a double agent ”.

“The army has always worked with its Tuareg informants and a certain number of them are also among the sponsors of this assassination.” Antoine Glaser

Journalist, specialist in Africa and also vice-president of the association of Friends of Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon, Antoine Glaser points to the gray areas of the file. He recalls that our colleagues were also interested in the release of the hostages of Arlit. On September 16, 2010, seven employees of the Areva mining site in Niger were kidnapped by an Aqmi commando and released in October 2,013 after mysterious negotiations. “There was a ransom problem,” continues Antoine Glaser. The alleged sponsor is Seidane Ag Hitta. The same obtained the release of Serge Lazarevic (kidnapped in November 2 011 in northern Mali – Editor’s note) at the end of 2014, a year after the death of our friends from RFI. It makes you wonder if all this is not linked. He underlines that the current situation is complicated for the French army as well in the relations with Mali as with Algeria. “The army has always worked with its Tuareg informants and a certain number of them are also among the sponsors of this assassination. Which makes things even more complicated. We come up against secrecy. “

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An “obstacle to the manifestation of the truth”

The upheavals that the region is experiencing have consequences for the current investigation: end of the “Barkhane” mission and, “in the context of negotiations between the new Malian power and the jihadists, the possibility of the rehabilitation of Seidane Ag Hitta” , according to Danièle Gonod. This man is none other than the lieutenant of Iyad Ag Ghali, the head of the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (Gsim). Seidane Ag Hitta had actively participated in the negotiations which led to the release of the last French hostage, Sophie Pétronin, in 2020, in exchange for 200 Islamist detainees and a ransom of several million euros.

The impotence of magistrates

The secret-defense is an “obstacle to the manifestation of the truth”, denounces Me Marie Dosé, lawyer of the association. “Secret-defense documents have certainly been transmitted but have cut many pages,” she explains. Regarding “the manifestation of the truth, this priority is not that of the army”, notes the lawyer. Taking up the case of Seidane Ag Hitta, she asks: “Who was he in contact with in the context of these negotiations?” Is it a rehabilitation company aimed at ensuring impunity in his country? What about the cooperation between France and Mali concerning it? Here again, the difficulty is that magistrates, lawyers and the judiciary are powerless. The negotiations put in place within the framework of these operations are completely ignored. Except one day to lift the secret-defense, we will not know much. “

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