PARIS — Two veteran French journalists kidnapped and killed in northern Mali were shot to death, French authorities said Sunday, as questions emerged about how the gunmen managed to carry out the attack near a town where both French troops and UN forces were based.
The slayings of Ghislaine Dupont, 51, and Claude Verlon, 58, shocked France and underscored how insecure parts of northern Mali remain months after a French-led military intervention against Al Qaeda and other extremists.
The new details, shared by the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, after a meeting of key ministers with President Francois Hollande, failed to clarify who was behind the killings and why the pair was targeted.
He said the two were shot multiple times. Earlier, four Malian officials, including the head of the armed forces in Kidal, said the journalists’ throats had been slit.
Their bodies were flown to the Malian capital of Bamako on Sunday and were to be returned to France on Monday.
The Radio France Internationale journalists were kidnapped Saturday after interviewing a Tuareg rebel leader in Kidal.
The northern town is under de facto rebel control despite the presence of French and UN troops.
French troops, alerted to the kidnappings, set up checkpoints, sent out patrols, and called in helicopters to search for the journalists, said French military spokesman Colonel Gilles Jaron.
But a patrol arrived too late, finding the abandoned vehicle east of the town and the bodies nearby. The French troops, some 200 of whom are based at the Kidal airport, had earlier found no trace of the fleeing vehicle.
Suspicion as to who was behind the killings grew as bits of information trickled out. Both Tuareg separatists of the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, known as the NMLA, and Al Qaeda-linked fighters operate in the area.
Fabius said the bodies were found some 8 miles outside Kidal and several yards from the vehicle. RFI chief Marie-Christine Saragosse said they were found 87 feet from the kidnappers’ vehicle.