An elderly French hostage has been murdered by al-Qaida in revenge after a failed attempt to free him left six of the terrorists dead.
President Nicolas Sarkozy today condemned the killing of 78-year-old aid worker Michel Germaneau, and said it “will not go unpunished”.
The leader of al-Qaida’s North African group said Mr Germaneau was killed in retaliation for the deaths of six al-Qaida members in a military operation in the Sahara last week.
Mr Sarkozy defended France’s decision to take part in the attempted rescue with troops from Mauritania as a last-ditch effort.
“Convinced he was condemned to a certain death, we had the duty to make this effort to pull him free from his captors,” Mr Sarkozy said in a public address after an emergency government meeting.
That effort failed and Mr Germaneau was killed “in cold blood”, Mr Sarkozy said, without saying when or where.
He was abducted April 22 in Niger, and taken to Mali.
Amid increasing concerns about terrorism and trafficking in north-west Africa, four countries – Algeria, Mauritania, Mali and Niger – in April opened a joint military headquarters deep in the desert.
The goal has been to establish a collective response to threats from traffickers and the al-Qaida offshoot.
Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb had given France until today to help secure the release of its jailed members in the region, warning that Germaneau would be executed otherwise.
“As a quick response to the despicable French act, we confirm that we have killed hostage Germaneau in revenge for our six brothers who were killed in the treacherous operation,” the group’s leader, Abdelmalek Droukdel, said.
“Mr Sarkozy has (not only) failed to free his compatriot in this failed operation, but he opened the doors of hell for himself and his people,” he added.
The precise circumstances of the recent military raid in north-west Africa remain a mystery.
Before retiring, Mr Germaneau worked in the Algerian oil sector. He later ran an aid group that worked in African countries called Enmilal.
In a May clip released by his captors, Mr Germaneau appealed to Mr Sarkozy to “find a good solution for me”. He said he was suffering from a heart condition and he had run out of medicine.
The group is also holding two Spanish aid workers, Roque Pascual and Albert Vilalta, who were taken hostage in Mauritania in November.