Families of French citizens held hostage in Africa are continuing to try to get as much information they can regarding the state of their loved ones. “No one tells us anything, [not] the French side, no one says anything, the jihadists do not speak anymore, that’s to say that we are totally in the dark, and that’s an insufferable way to live,” said Jean-Pierre Verdon, the father of Philippe Verdon. Philippe Verdon and his companion, Serge Lazarevic, were traveling in Northern Mali when they were kidnapped in November 2011 by an Al-Qaeda group. They were taken during the middle of the night on November 24, from their hotel in Hombori, in Northeastern Mali. Those close to them have stated that they were working on a cement works project, though there has been some doubt regarding this information. A communicator from Al Qaeda has accused Philippe Verdon of being a French spy. This allegation has been rejected not only by those close to him, but also by Alain Juppé, former French Minister of Foreign Affairs: “You know very well that that is the argument used regularly by kidnappers of hostages with total malicious intent.”
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb affirmed the execution of hostage Philippe Verdon in retaliation to the French intervention in Mali, according to a press agency that maintains close contact with Islamic activists. During a telephone call, a denominate presented himself as a spokesman for AQIM, and explicitly stated that the French “spy” had been decapitated on March 10, 2013. The French Ministry of Foreign affairs immediately informed families of the news, however it warned them to not take it to heart quite yet. “The Ministry had an informative job by warning families at 1:00 a.m. of the diffusion of communication. They told the family of the kidnapped to take the news with much reserve. Nothing is yet confirmed,” declared Pascal Lupart, the President of the support committee for the two men held hostage together.
Philippe Verdon’s father, Jean-Pierre Verdon, has indicated that he is under “no illusions” as to the state of his son. “I am very affected, very tired,” he briefly declared. “I am under no illusions, but am waiting for confirmation of the worst news. I am truly in no state to express myself.” Pascal Lupart from the support committee had a different take on the situation. “We are assuming that Philippe is deceased. It remains to be known in precisely what circumstances he died. He had terrible health problems, and on a tape recorded last August 10, he appeared to be in a disastrous state.” The fifty-three year old hostage suffered from an ulcer and tachycardia. “It is possible that he died from diseases, because life in Africa is very hard. One cannot rule out the use of manipulation of AQIM, who may have used his death and called it an execution.” Regarding the alleged death, a French government spokesperson stated, “We are still trying to verify the information on the reality of these facts.”
At the moment, fifteen French citizens (including Philippe Verdon) are being held hostage in the world. All of them are in Africa. Pascal Lupart has also voiced his fears regarding other hostages. “It is a permanent anguish,” he said, in reference to the risk of retaliation in Al Qaeda avenging the death of their leader, Abou Zeid. French President François Hollande has claimed that he refuses to pour money into ransoms in countries with which France is at war. On Wednesday, March 20, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault stood in front of the National Assembly and promised that France would do everything to free the hostages. He also underlined that French troops would be leaving Mali by the end of April. Unfortunately, since the beginning of French involvement in Mali, AQIM has raised its ransom to over ninety million Euros for the safe return of the hostages. According to the current French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Laurent Fabius, the time for negotiation is over.
The previous Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alain Juppé, supports Hollande’s plan to refuse any monetary prize in return for the hostages. “We have always said that the French state does not pay ransoms… We must continue to negotiate.” While there is nobility in refusing to pay a ransom, the families are becoming desperate, and with good reason. A spokesman for Al Qaeda in the Maghreb left the president with a very chilling message; “The French President, François Hollande, is responsible for the lives of the other French hostages.”