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French army in spotlight over journalist's abduction in northern Mali in 2021

In this Wednesday June 9, 2021 file photo, French Barkhane force soldiers who wrapped up a four-month tour of duty in the Sahel leave their base in Gao, Mali.   -  
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Jerome Delay/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


Could the French antiterrorist force in the Sahel have prevented the kidnaping of French journalist Olivier Dubois? French media reported Wednesday (May. 17) that French forces tried to use a journalist's visit to northern Mali to track a jihadist leader but failed to prevent the reporter from being kidnapped by the militant.

Based on French and Malian judicial documents from the probe, the report said a fixer working with Dubois had informed France's anti-jihadist Barkhane force of his plans to interview a jihadist leader.

Barkhane planned to track the leader back to his base but abandoned the operation last minute, it said.

The report comes amid an investigation into what happened to journalist Olivier Dubois, 48, who was abducted in the northern Malian town of Gao in April 2021.

He flew home to France in March, nearly two years after he was kidnapped by the Al-Qaeda-linked Group to Support Islam and Muslims (JNIM).

But they did not deploy the necessary means to prevent the journalist from being kidnapped, it said.

The report is published by newspaper Le Monde, with daily Liberation and broadcasters RFI and TV5Monde.

'No personal fault within the Barkhane force'

A diplomatic source said a letter had been sent to Dubois the day before he was kidnapped, formally advising him against making the trip.

In addition, Liberation -- for whom Dubois was writing at the time -- had refused to back his plan to interview the jihadist in view of the risks.

Contacted by AFP, the French foreign ministry declined to comment due to the ongoing investigation.

The military general staff also declined to comment.

An internal army probe found in late 2021 that there had been "no personal fault within the Barkhane force" over the kidnapping.

But "the sensitivity of the topic was not sufficiently taken into account so as to allow... a dissuasive action with regards to the journalist", it said.

French forces withdrew from Mali last year following a fallout with the ruling junta.

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