A group linked to al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for killing two French journalists in northern Mali, according to news reports.
Reuters news agency on Wednesday quoted the Mauritanian news website Sahara Medias as saying it had received a claim from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Abdallah Mohamedi, head of Sahara Medias, a company that is often sent statements by fighters in Mali, said the
claim had come by email from fighters loyal to Abdelkrim al-Targui, a senior commander in the region.
It said their deaths were “a response to crimes committed by France against Malians and the work of African and international forces against the Muslims of Azawad”, the name given by the Tuareg people to northern Mali.
Ghislaine Dupont, 57, and Claude Verlon, 55, were kidnapped and killed by what French officials called “terrorist groups” after interviewing a spokesman for Tuareg separatists in the flashpoint northeastern town of Kidal on Saturday.
Sources in Mali told the AFP news agency that at least 35 suspects have been arrested in 48 hours as the hunt intensifies for the killers.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Tuesday that his country would stick to its timetable for withdrawing troops from Mali, despite a resurgence in violence and the killing of the journalists.
France sent soldiers to its former colony in January to combat fioghters who had taken over large swathes of Mali.
It has already delayed by two months plans to reduce troop numbers from 3,200 to 1,000 by the end of the year.