Has France paid a ransom to Malian jihadists for the release of a hostage?

The release of four hostages in Mali, including a French woman, in October 2020 would have been possible thanks to a ransom of 30 million euros and the release of 207 terrorists following negotiations led by French soldiers, the jihadist Mustapha Derrar told the daily El Watan, which France denies.

A ransom of several million euros – paid to jihadists last October in Mali in return for the release of four hostages, including Frenchwoman Sophie Pétronin – was again mentioned by Mustapha Derrar, one of the jihadists released in exchange for the hostages in question but then captured in Algeria.

Mustapha Derrar has already spoken about the ransom in a video broadcast on Algerian public television following his arrest; this time, he described his jihadist journey to the daily El Watan.

According to him, after joining one of the armed groups in northern Mali around November 2012, he and other jihadists were ambushed by the French and Malian military towards the end of January 2013.

According to his version, he was then arrested by Malian soldiers who subjected him to “atrocious torture” and then handed him over to the French stationed in Gao’s barracks. Here, he says he was subjected to a long interrogation “carried out by French soldiers”. Eventually, he was handed over to the Malians before ending up in a Bamako prison.

Frequent visits by French military personnel

He remembers the recurrent comings and goings of French and Malian soldiers during these years spent in prison. But in 2020, these visits “increased,” and he learned from some prisoners that negotiations for the release

of all the prison inmates were underway “through the intermediary of Iyad Ag Ghali [one of the main leaders of Malian jihadists, editor’s note]”.

He said he had heard at the beginning of a ransom of 6 million euros in exchange for the release of hostages held by Daech, which held the Italians and Iyad group, who had kidnapped the French and Malian. Then, he continued, they learned that the sum was close to 10 million euros, before reaching 30 million euros.

“On 4 October 2020, the authorities freed 207 terrorists from three major prisons in return for the recovery of the four hostages,” Derrar said.

After his release, the man and 70 other terrorists were again transferred to northern Mali. There, they were joined by local jihadists who offered to “lead the jihad” in the Great Sahara.

Here, in Iyad Ag Ghali’s encampment, he and each of the jihadists received “a sum of 1,000 euros and a Kalashnikov pistol”. Finally, he made the decision to return to Algeria, which one of the emirs allowed him to do. He was arrested in Algiers.

The man claims to have “never taken a weapon” and that he had “returned to the country not to return to northern Mali”. However, even if the man did not commit a terrorist act in Algeria, recalls El Watan, he is being prosecuted for being a member of a terrorist organization abroad.

Algiers denounces the ransom payment

Implicitly referring to France, the Algerian Prime Minister, Abdelaziz Djerad, regretted this Monday, 7 December, the payment of ransoms to free hostages in Mali, an “approach” which, according to him, “undermines” the Algerian efforts to fight terrorism. Mr. Djerad also believes that it is necessary to “dry up the sources” of terrorist financing.

Reaction from Paris

As AFP recalls, France has always denied having been involved in the negotiations to release the four hostages and have paid a ransom for Ms. Pétronin.

“We were not part of these negotiations,” said Jean Castex on 12 October, referring to a “humanitarian gesture” by the jihadists about the release of the Frenchwoman.

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