The army guilty of negligence in the kidnapping of Olivier Dubois?

Interviewing an emir of Al-Qaeda in the Sahel was a high-risk project. But that did not prevent Olivier Dubois from pursuing the company, hoping to be able to produce exceptional journalistic work. His audacity will cost him dearly: for nearly two years, he remained hostage to the jihadist group. However, according to the revelations of a joint investigation by several media, published on Tuesday, the army and the French intelligence services apparently did not initiate any maneuver to prevent this hostage taking while they were aware of the risks. According to Arnaud Froger, head of the investigation office at Reporter Without Borders (RSF) “it’s not just a lack of lucidity, it’s a failure. » Explanations.

Where does this survey come from?

It is a joint work of Worldof Release, Radio France internationale (RFI) and TV5Monde which led to these compromising revelations for the French army. For a year and a half, these three media investigated the kidnapping of Olivier Dubois on April 8, 2021, then a freelancer for various editorial staff (Release, Point Africa And Young Africa). The journalist, based in Bamako in 2015, had decided to try to interview Abdallah Ag Albakaye, a jihadist leader affiliated with GSIM (branch of Al-Qaeda in the Sahel also called JNIM), in Mali. A subject, moreover, refused by Release faced with the obvious risks of such a project. The four media at the origin of this long investigation, which “risks causing a stir at the ministry”, estimates Isabelle Dufour, director of strategic studies at Eurocrise, have decided to wait for the release of Olivier Dubois on March 20 to finally publish it.

What exactly does this river survey reveal?

Fueled by French and Malian court documents, the detailed investigation by the four editorial staff sheds light on the way in which the soldiers of Operation Barkhane, who are fighting against jihadist groups in the region, used the interview project of the French journalist without intervening and preventing its removal.

The facts date back to the end of 2020. At that time, in order to contact and organize the meeting with the Emir Abdallah Ag Albakaye, Olivier Dubois asked his fixer, called Kader to protect his identity, to help him. Except that the French journalist is unaware that this Kader informs, in parallel, the French soldiers of all the details of this meeting. The French soldiers hope, in fact, to be able to use it to locate the emir, or even to capture him, according to a French lieutenant quoted in The world. For months, they have access to all the information, via the fixer, from the progress of negotiations to making appointments. Despite the risks of kidnapping incurred by the journalist, identified by the army services, Olivier Dubois did not receive an alert prompting him to abandon his project. Only a “red letter” – to formally advise against it – had been sent to the journalist the day before his kidnapping to dissuade him from making this trip.

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Faced with the dangerousness and concerns about the Emir’s real motives, the French soldiers even decided to abandon their operation at the last minute. When Kader, supposed to be the translator for the interview, and above all to continue to keep the French forces informed, does not get into the pick-up truck that has come to pick up Olivier Dubois, the French soldiers do not move. While the soldiers have the GPS coordinates of the place where the men of Ag Albakaye are supposed to find the journalist, after 45 minutes, the time scheduled for the interview, Barkhane did not react. Olivier Dubois will finally be kidnapped on April 8, 2021 in Gao.

Can the French forces be held responsible?

Responsible for investigating this case internally, the General Inspectorate of the Armed Forces (IGA) concluded at the end of 2021 that there had been “no personal fault within the Barkhane force” but that “the sensitivity of the subject was not taken into account at a sufficient level to conduct (…) a dissuasive action against the journalist”. Contacted by 20 minutesthe Ministry of the Armed Forces, declined to comment and invokes the ongoing judicial investigation.

According to Arnaud Froger, head of the investigation office at RSF, this case shows on the contrary “several shortcomings, a lot of negligence and irresponsibility” on the part of Barkhane’s forces and the military intelligence services. He then cites the use of a journalist “as a Trojan horse without his knowledge”, the fact of “not warning him of the concrete risks he is running”, “not warning him that he is being followed by the authorities » and « the endangerment of the safety of a French national », and denounces « a whole series of flaws in the French army. ” Indeed, ” if it is true, the fact of not informing Olivier Dubois of the risks of kidnapping it would be a fault on their part, if it happened like that, they took a very limited risk “, abounds Isabelle Dufour.

Are these risks taken commonplace?

In addition, Arnaud Froger questions “the meaning that is given to intelligence in France. Was the neutralization of this emir, lieutenant of the armed Islamist organization, intermediary in the hierarchy, worth endangering the life of a French national and journalist?

“It raises questions about a more global policy, about the means, the risks taken and for what result? “, he insists, considering that there were” no doubt other means of reaching the target. Especially since the French soldiers have good human intelligence on the spot, according to Isabelle Dufour. Is it commonplace among the military to use journalists in this way for the needs of an operation? The official version of the authorities is that no, “but obviously she does”, laments Arnaud Froger.

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