Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Have AQMI executed a French hostage in Mali, and if so, why?

The AQMI logo
France woke up this morning to the news that Islamic terrorist group the AQMI (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magheb) has announced that they have executed Philippe Verdon, a French national who was taken hostage by them in November 2011. The alleged execution was said by an AQMI spokesman to have been in reprisal for ongoing French military action against them in Mali.

French authorities have not confirmed his death as of this evening, and there has been no independent confirmation of the killing either, but many analysts consider both the source of the information and the channels via which it was communicated to Paris to be relatively trustworthy.

But a vital question remains. Why did the AQMI make this statement and what can they hope to gain by making it? 

France, unlike Britain, America and some other western allies, is a country which is known to have paid ransoms amounting to millions of euros to free French terrorist hostages on many occasions in the past. However it has been widely speculated for months that President François Hollande has refused to do financial deals with organisations with which France is at war, and that includes the AQMI.

Which, of course, begs the question of why the AQMI, knowing this, would kill a hostage to try and obtain a ransom for those left alive which may well not be paid.

It would be tempting to think that they may be trying to outblink the French and make them cave in to their demands, but there is also another possibility.

The AQMI in Mali are cornered by French elite and other military forces who are tracking them down to their last mountain refuges and killing them at a steady, and high, rate, and their military defeat seems inevitable. But crucially there are several high-level AQMI leaders still at large in the area. Unlike their foot soldiers, many of whom are prepared to die in jihad, the leaders have more ambitious goals. They are motivated by the prospect of political, financial and long-term ideological victory, and not by fighting to the death in a short-term war which is already lost. They want to stay alive and live to fight another day.

Which is why it may just be possible that the AQMI are engaging in a process of negotiation with the French in the hope of obtaining a quick ceasefire and possibly saving their own lives, even if doing so means a prison term.

That which, in turn, makes it possible to hope that the announcement of the execution of Philippe Verdon is a negotiating ploy and not a fact.

Let's hope that that is the case.

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