In Video, French Reporter Who Vanished in Mali Says He Was Kidnapped
PARIS — A French journalist who went missing in Mali last month said in a video that circulated Wednesday on social media, but that could not be independently verified, that he had been kidnapped by a jihadist group operating in the region as he appealed for help from the authorities in France.
The 21-second clip appears to show Olivier Dubois, a French journalist based in Mali who disappeared there in early April, sitting cross-legged in what seems to be a tent.
After identifying himself, Mr. Dubois says in the video that he was kidnapped on April 8 in Gao, a town in central Mali, by a local Islamist group affiliated with Al Qaeda that is known as JSIM, an acronym for Group to Support Islam and Muslims.
“I am speaking to my family, to my friends and to the French authorities so that they do everything that is in their power to free me,” Mr. Dubois says in the video.
The French authorities confirmed that Mr. Dubois had gone missing but stopped short of describing it as a kidnapping, and the exact circumstances of his disappearance remained unclear.
“We are in contact with his family and with Malian authorities,” the French foreign ministry said in a statement, adding that it was carrying out “technical verifications” to authenticate the video.
Reporters Without Borders, the journalism advocacy group, said on Wednesday that it had been informed of Mr. Dubois’ disappearance two days after he went missing, “when he failed to return on time to the Malian capital Bamako.”
“In coordination with his editors, Reporters Without Borders took the decision not to report his abduction in order not to hamper the possibility of a rapid positive outcome,” the group said in a statement.
But the release of the video appeared to force the group and the French authorities to issue their first public comments on Mr. Dubois’ disappearance.
Mr. Dubois, 46, who has lived and worked in Mali since 2015, was described by Reporters Without Borders and by French outlets he worked with as a seasoned, veteran journalist who was well aware of the risks that came with reporting in some areas of Mali.
Libération, one of the main newspapers Mr. Dubois wrote for, said in an article on Wednesday that in late March he had pitched the newspaper a face-to-face interview with a JSIM midlevel lieutenant in Gao, Abdallah Ag Albakaye.
“Olivier has solid contacts in the jihadist sphere, he has known some of them for years,” Libération wrote. “They were vouching for his safety.”
Libération turned down the pitch because of the risks involved, the newspaper wrote. Still, Mr. Dubois flew from Bamako to Gao. There, he spent several hours at his hotel and left for lunch. But two days later, he did not show up for his return flight to Bamako and was reported missing by the French Embassy in Mali, Libération said.
“The report of this reporter’s abduction is another cruel blow to journalism in the Sahel,” Arnaud Froger, the head of Reporters Without Borders’ Africa desk, said in a statement, referring to the sub-Saharan region that stretches from Senegal to Sudan.
Armed groups operating in Mali and other countries in the Sahel have made it increasingly difficult for journalists to report from the region. Last month, two Spanish journalists making a documentary about anti-poaching efforts and an Irish ranger were kidnapped and killed in Burkina Faso.
Central and northern Mali have become especially dangerous since 2013, when France sent its forces into the West African country, a former French colony, after armed Islamists took control of its northern cities.
Since then, French and Malian forces have struggled to stop a range of extremist groups, some of them affiliated with Al Qaeda or the Islamic State, that have spread violence across the border area of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger and elsewhere in the region.
In 2013, two French journalists working for Radio France Internationale, Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon, were killed by Islamist insurgents in Mali, in circumstances that have remained murky to this day.
Mali has undergone severe institutional instability over the past year. After months of ballooning protests over corruption, bloodshed, and election interference, a coup in August toppled the president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, and replaced him with Bah N’Daou, a retired colonel and former defense minister.
Published at Wed, 05 May 2021 17:21:13 +0000
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