DAKAR, Senegal — Al Qaeda’s branch in North Africa claimed responsibility Wednesday for slaying two French radio journalists who were abducted in northern Mali Saturday, according to a statement published online.
A Mali intelligence official involved in the case said investigators believe the kidnapping was the work of a lower-level jihadist trying to return to the good graces of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb after being accused of stealing money. The militant is believed to have been reporting to Abdelkarim al-Targui, a Malian in the Al Qaeda branch, the official said.
Hours after the kidnapping, the bodies of Radio France Internationale’s Ghislaine Dupont, a senior correspondent, and Claude Verlon, a production technician, were found next to the abductors’ suspected vehicle, which had broken down near the town of Kidal. The journalists had just interviewed an ethnic Tuareg rebel leader.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s claim of responsibility was reported on the website of Sahara Media, a portal previously used by the jihadists. It said the journalists were killed in retaliation for the ‘‘daily crimes’’ committed by French and Malian forces in northern Mali, where France launched a military operation in January to flush out the Islamist extremists.
‘‘The organization considers that this is the least of the price which [French] President Francois Hollande and his people will pay for their new crusade,’’ the statement says.
The website identifies the brigade responsible for the killings as that of Targui.
Targui is a native of the Kidal region and one of the few Malian nationals who has risen to prominence in the Al Qaeda branch, which is led almost exclusively by Algerian extremists. He is believed responsible for the previous kidnappings of two French nationals, Philippe Verdon and Serge Lazarevic, in 2011. Lazarevic remains in captivity. Verdon was executed.
Targui also is believed to be responsible for the execution of Michel Germaneau, an elderly Frenchman who died in Al Qaeda’s hands in northern Mali in 2010, according to Jean-Paul Rouiller, the director of the Geneva Centre for Training and Analysis of Terrorism and an expert on Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Investigators had been puzzled by why the attackers chose to kill the two journalists, rather than hold them for ransom.