NOUAKCHOTT - A French hostage has been executed in Mali, a man claiming to be a spokesman for Al-Qaeda in North Africa told Mauritania's ANI news agency late Tuesday.
A French foreign office spokesman said they were trying to verify the report of the killing of Philippe Verdon, who was kidnapped in November 2011, adding that "we don't know at the moment" whether it is reliable.
The private Mauritanian news agency reported that someone calling himself Al-Qairawani and claiming to be a spokesman for Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) group told them that the "spy" Verdon had been executed "on March 10 in response to France's intervention in Northern Mali."
"The French President (Francois) Hollande is responsible for the lives of the other French hostages," he warned.
Verdon was seized on the night of November 24, 2011 along with Serge Lazarevic. According to their families the two men had been on a business trip and were kidnapped from their hotel in Hombori, northeast Mali.
Paris deployed forces in Mali on January 11 to help stop Al-Qaeda linked fighters who had controlled the north of the country since April 2012 from moving southward and threatening the capital Bamako.
France now has more than 4,000 troops on the ground in Mali, of whom about 1,200 are currently deployed in the northeast, carrying out clean-up operations after driving out most of the Islamist rebels from the area.
There are still pockets of resistance in areas such as Gao, which have witnessed stray attacks and suicide bombings since the Islamists fled.
The French troops in the region are backed up by African forces. Soldiers from Chad, whose experience and training has made them key in the French-led offensive, have also suffered casualties with at least 26 deaths.
On Tuesday the French army announced that 15 Islamist fighters had been killed in recent days in the northern Mali region of Gao, with the seizure of a large cache of arms and ammunition.
In all 15 French nationals, including Verdon, are being held captive in Africa, with AQIM claiming responsibility for six of the kidnappings.
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