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French hostage in Mali reported killed by captors

April 22, 2014

PARIS (AP) — One of two remaining French hostages in the west African nation of Mali probably died several weeks ago because of abusive treatment by his Islamic militant captors, President Francois Hollande’s office said Tuesday.

Neither the president nor the Foreign Ministry could confirm with certainty the death of Gilberto Rodriguez-Leal, 62, who was captured in November 2012 while traveling in Mauritania and Mali.

The announcement followed a report Tuesday by the Agence France-Presse news agency. AFP said an official from the MUJAO terrorist group telephoned its office to say that Rodriguez-Leal “is dead because France is our enemy.”

Hollande’s office said in a statement that France would “do all to uncover the truth ... and will not leave this unpunished.”

France intervened in Mali in January 2013 to rout Muslim extremists who had seized control of the north of the country and threatened to take over the rest. Dozens of al-Qaida-linked terrorists were killed in the intervention, while many more fled to neighboring nations.

The extremists captured Westerners, particularly French citizens, and turned hostage-taking into a lucrative business producing handsome ransoms. They radicals also trafficked in drugs.

At one point last year, seven French citizens were held hostage in Mali. One man, Philippe Verdon, was reportedly executed in March 2013. Others were freed.

The last remaining hostage in Mali, Serge Lazarevic, was a colleague of Verdon.

The hostages were mainly held by a group called al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, an affiliate of the global terror network. However, Rodriguez-Leal was reportedly captured in a cafe in western Mali, far from the heart of the danger zone, by MUJAO, another al-Qaida-affiliated group whose full name is the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa.

Last weekend, Hollande welcomed home four journalists who had been held hostage for 10 months in Syria.

While Hollande says France does not pay ransoms, it is widely believed that funds may end up in terror coffers through middlemen.

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