Wednesday 13 November 2019

Al-Qaida-linked Mali extremists release video of hostages

French President Emmanuel Macron, left, stands next to Malian counterpart Ibrahim Boubacar Keita during the opening session of G5 Sahel force summit in Bamako, Mali (Baba Ahmed/AP)
French President Emmanuel Macron, left, stands next to Malian counterpart Ibrahim Boubacar Keita during the opening session of G5 Sahel force summit in Bamako, Mali (Baba Ahmed/AP)

An al-Qaida-linked group in Mali has released a proof-of-life video showing six foreign hostages, as French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in the country for an anti-terror summit.

The recently formed Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen group issued the video on Saturday, the SITE Intelligence Group said.

It shows Stephen McGowan of South Africa, Elliot Kenneth Arthur of Australia, Iulian Ghergut of Romania, Beatrice Stockly of Switzerland, Gloria Cecilia Narvaez of Colombia and Sophie Petronin of France.

"No genuine negotiations have begun to rescue your children," a narrator says.

The narrator also mentions the recently-elected Mr Macron, saying Ms Petronin "is hoping that the new French president will come to her rescue".

Mr Macron is meeting with heads of state from five nations across Africa's Sahel region to build support for a new 5,000-strong multi-national force meant to counter extremists there.

Deadly attacks in recent years in countries once considered relatively safe have alarmed the international community.

In March, a video announced the creation of Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen from a merger of three extremist groups: the al-Qaida-linked al-Mourabitoun, Ansar Dine and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.

Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen claimed responsibility for last month's attack on a resort area popular with foreigners outside Mali's capital that killed at least five people.

A number of the hostages in Mali have been held for years. Of the six shown in the video, Mr McGowan was the earliest seized, abducted in 2011 from a hostel in Timbuktu.

Ms Narvaez, a nun, was the most recently seized, abducted in February near the border with Burkina Faso.

The video comes after Sweden's government on Monday announced the release of Johan Gustafsson, who was held by Islamic extremists in Mali for six years.


Mr Macron said he welcomed the first sign of life for several months from the French hostage in the video, Ms Petronin.

"They are terrorists, thugs and assassins," Mr Macron said of the extremists. "And we will put all of our energies into eradicating them."

Speaking in Mali, he promised strong support for the new multinational military force against extremists in Africa's vast Sahel region.

He said France will provide military support for operations as well as 70 tactical vehicles and communications, operations and protective equipment.

The 5,000-strong force will be deployed by September, and its funding will be finalised by then, Mr Macron said.

The leaders of Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad - known as the G5 - must clarify their roles and contributions for the force to attract more support from outside countries, the French president added.

"We cannot hide behind words, and must take actions," he said.

The new anti-terror force will operate in the region along with a 12,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, and France's own 5,000-strong Barkhane military operation, its largest overseas mission.

The new force is not meant to replace those missions, Mr Macron said. "It's a force that fights against terrorism, and the trafficking of drugs and humans."


PA Media

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