PARIS (Reuters) - A body found in northern Mali is likely to be that of French geologist Philippe Verdon, taken hostage in November 2011, France's Foreign Ministry said on Sunday.

President Francois Hollande had said in his Bastille Day speech on Sunday that it was possible Verdon had died several weeks ago but his death was not officially confirmed.

"There is a very strong chance that the body found recently in northern Mali is unfortunately that of our compatriot Philippe Verdon," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement, adding that further checks were being made.

Citing an unnamed source, Radio France Internationale said earlier on Sunday that DNA checks had shown that the body found in the north of Mali was that of Verdon and it would be repatriated to France within days.

Al Qaeda's arm in the Islamic Maghreb said in March it had beheaded Verdon in response to France's military intervention in Mali.

Hollande justified the intervention partly by saying it would prevent northern Mali being used as a launchpad for Islamist militant attacks in Africa and in the West.

(Reporting by Astrid Wendlandt; Editing by Alistair Lyon)




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