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Journalists Reporting in Mali Receive Death Threats From ‘Guardians of Jihad’

Rebels from the militant Islamist sect Ansar Dine in Mali - Public Domain

Rebels from militant group Ansar Dine in Mali. Public domain

A few journalists covering West Africa have received death threats following their reporting on the northern region of Mali.

In the message sent on 31 August, a group that names itself “Les Gardiens du Jihad” (Guardians of Jihad) did not specify the reasons for the threats but mentioned that foreign journalists, and French ones in particular, will be slain for “spreading lies about Islam”.

Here is a translation of an excerpt of the message:

In the name of the Guardians of Jihad, we announce that the Hand of the Prophet will help us slay all foreign journalists in Mali and journalists who work for foreign media. We know where you all live and we know where you are heading to. The Hand of the Prophet will guide us in getting rid of you and your lies about the jihad. We demand that you leave Mali [..] Heads will soon fall and it will begin with those of French journalists and journalists who work for France, the main enemy of Islam.

Two journalists, Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon, were killed in Bamako, Mali, in November 2013 by Bayes Ag Bakabo, a man suspected to be a member of Al-Qaeda in Maghreb (AQIM).

Recent events in northern Mali have provided cause for concern that peace is on tenuous ground in the region. On August 9, 13 people were killed, including five UN workers, in a hostage siege at a hotel in the central Malian town of Sevare. The UN force in Mali took over responsibility for security in the country from French troops in July 2013. France intervened in the country after Islamist militants threatened to march on Bamako in December 2012 in what was then called Operation Serval.

This is one of the many threats that French journalists in particular have received for their reporting on Islamic militants since the Charlie Hebdo killing on January 7, 2015. In June, French journalist Anna Erelle (a pseudonym) was trying to understand why young women and teenagers would leave their homes and families to join ISIS in Syria. She created a fake online profile and was approached by a man called Abu Bilel who proposed to her and invited her to join the group. When she refused, Bilel sent her death threats. The following is a video of Erelle explaining her current situation:

The threats aimed at journalists are adding to an already tense social context in France following the shooting aboard the Thalys Train from Amsterdam to Paris on 21 August. According to the French Attorney General François Molins, in the past few months:

  • 1.882 Français sont aujourd'hui impliqués dans le djihad
  • 87 personnes font l'objet d'une information judiciaire
  • 63 d'une enquête judiciaire
  • 209 ont été mises en examen et 125 placées en détention provisoire
  • 1,882 French citizens are now involved in jihad activities
  • 87 are currently subjected to a judicial inquiry
  • 63 are under criminal investigation
  • 209 were indicted and 125 are placed under temporary detention.

French President François Hollande stated on 25 August following the Thalys attack that additional attacks on French soil are to be expected. Hollande identified ISIS, Boko Haram and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as the threats towards security in France. Eight attacks have been conducted on French soil in 2015 (timelines here).

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