French hostage in Mali 'killed'
20 March 2013, 16:05
Paris - France was investigating a claim by the North
African offshoot of al-Qaeda that it killed French businessman Philippe Verdon
who was kidnapped in Mali in November 2011, the Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim) said it killed Verdon
on March 10, in retaliation for France's military intervention against Islamist
militants in the West African country, the Mauritanian news agency ANI
Paris has told Verdon's family to treat the report with
caution, France Info radio reported.
Jean-Pierre Verdon told Agence France-Presse he was
"very affected" by the Aqim announcement and that he had "no
illusions" about the fate of his son, whilst still awaiting official
confirmation of the news.
Verdon is one of 15 French hostages being held by radical
Islamist factions in Africa, six of which are being held by AQIM.
The report of his killing comes as French and African troops
continue their offensive against Aqim and two other jihadist groups in the
mountains of northern Mali.
France launched an air and ground offensive two months ago
to halt the rebels' advance south towards the capital Bamako.
The fighting has since shifted from the northern towns that
the rebels used to control - but subsequently lost - to the desert hinterland,
where a total of seven hostages are believed to be being held.
Verdon was abducted in the northern town of Hombori,
together with a colleague Serge Lazarevic. Their families said the two men were
on a business trip related to a project for a cement factory.
Concern for the hostages had grown since the announcement in
early March by Chadian forces fighting alongside the French in the Adrar des
Ifogas mountains that they had killed two terrorist leaders, Abdelhamid Abou
Zeid and Mokhtar Belmokhtar.
On Tuesday, Verdon's father had complained about the lack of
information coming from the combat zone.
"We're in a complete fog and it's unbearable," he
told RTL radio.