France believes French Sahel hostages ‘alive’

France's defence minister insisted there is "every reason to believe" French hostages being held in the Sahel were still alive, but said there was "no proof" that two top Islamist militants had been killed in Mali.

France believes French Sahel hostages 'alive'
Family and friends of French hostages taken in Mali hold a meeting in Paris. Photo: AFP/Kenzo Tribouillard

Monday's remarks came amid fears for the lives of French hostages in the area following reports over the weekend that Chadian troops had killed Al-Qaeda-linked leaders Abdelhamid Abou Zeid and Mokhtar Belmokhtar in northern Mali.

Speaking about the hostages, Jean-Yves Le Drian told France 2 television: "As we speak, there is every reason to believe they are alive."

Abou Zeid was believed to have been holding four French citizens kidnapped in Niger in 2010, but the French army's chief of staff, Admiral Edouard Guillaud, on Monday said that could not be confirmed.

Responding to Chadian claims that Belmokhtar and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) chief Abou Zeid had recently been killed, Le Drian said he had no "proof of death" for the two men.

"I won't tell you that one or the other is dead because I don't know."

He added that "several hundred" militants had been killed in battles with French-backed troops in northern Mali and confirmed that prisoners had been taken, without going into details.

Saying that he understood "the anguish of the families and their pain", the minister insisted that France was operating "with respect for the lives of the hostages".

Le Drian also said the French government was "actively" working to free seven members of a French family, including four children, who were abducted by Islamists in Cameroon last month.

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Denmark to deploy special forces to Mali in 2022

Denmark plans to deploy about 100 special forces to Mali early next year to boost the elite anti-jihadist European task force Takuba headed by France, the government announced Thursday.

Denmark to deploy special forces to Mali in 2022
A UN aircraft about to depart Denmark for Mali in 2019. File photo: Henning Bagger/Ritzau Scanpix

“The terrorist threat posed by the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda remainssignificant,” the foreign and defence ministries said in a joint statement.

“They want to create a hub in West Africa for their extremist regime… and we cannot allow that to happen,” they added.

The Danish contingent, which apart from the special forces will also include top level military officers and surgeons, will be deployed at the beginning of 2022, the ministries said.

Copenhagen also plans to send a military transport plane to assist the UN mission in Mali, MINUSMA.

The French-led Takuba multinational force, launched in March 2020, has already seen Czech, Swedish and Estonian troops deployed in the region but France has struggled to obtain significant support from its larger EU partners.