France says one of two hostages held in Mali probably dead

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 22, 2014 3:13 PM

PARIS (Reuters) - A French hostage kidnapped two years ago in western Mali by the al Qaeda-linked Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) is probably dead, France's foreign ministry said on Tuesday.

Gilberto Rodriguez-Leal was captured in November 2012 after crossing from Mauritania into Mali, where Islamist militants had taken advantage of the chaos surrounding a coup to seize the northern two thirds of the country.

Earlier on Tuesday, the group told Agence France Presse that he had been killed because France is "our enemy."

"The statement from MUJWA, responsible for his kidnapping, leads us unfortunately to believe today that Mr. Rodriguez-Leal is probably dead, even though no material proof can allow us to confirm it," Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said in a statement.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Sunday he was "very worried" about Rodriguez-Leal as the government had not had any news of him for "a long time."

Rodriguez-Leal was one of two Frenchmen still held as hostages overseas. The other, Serge Lazarevic, was taken in November 2011 in the north of Mali by al Qaeda's North African arm AQIM.

Four French journalists, who had been held in Syria for more than ten months, were liberated over the weekend and returned home on Sunday.

One of MUJWA's leaders, Abu Dar Dar, surrendered to French troops in Mali in March.

(Reporting By Alexandria Sage; editing by John Irish)