PARIS – A French journalist who went missing in Mali last month said in a video that was shared on social media on Wednesday but could not be independently verified that he was kidnapped by a jihadist group operating in the region when he asked the authorities in France for help.
The 21-second clip appears to show Olivier Dubois, a French journalist from Mali who disappeared there in early April and is sitting cross-legged in a tent.
After identifying himself, Dubois says in the video that he was kidnapped on April 8 in Gao, a town in central Mali, by a local Islamist group affiliated with al-Qaeda known as JSIM Acronym for Group to Support Islam and Muslims.
“I am speaking to my family, friends and the French authorities so that they do everything in their power to free me,” says Dubois in the video.
The French authorities confirmed that Mr Dubois had disappeared but ceased to refer to him as a kidnapping and the exact circumstances of his disappearance remained unclear.
“We are in contact with his family and the Malian authorities,” the French Foreign Ministry said in a statement, adding that it was conducting “technical checks” to authenticate the video.
Reporters Without Borders, the journalism advocacy group, said on Wednesday it was informed of the disappearance of Mr Dubois two days after his disappearance “when he did not return to the Malian capital Bamako in time”.
“In consultation with its editors, Reporters Without Borders made a decision not to report his abduction in order not to hinder the possibility of a quick positive outcome,” the group said in a statement.
However, the release of the video appeared to force the group and the French authorities to make their first public comments on Mr Dubois’ disappearance.
Dubois, 46, who has lived and worked in Mali since 2015, has been described by Reporters Without Borders and the French outlets he has worked with as a seasoned, seasoned journalist who was aware of the risks involved in reporting in some areas of Mali were connected to Mali.
Liberation, one of the major newspapers Mr. Dubois wrote for, said in an article on Wednesday that he submitted to the newspaper a personal interview with a JSIM middle-level lieutenant in Gao, Abdallah Ag Albakaye, in late March.
“Olivier has solid contacts in the jihadist field, some of whom he has known for years,” wrote Liberation. “You vouched for his safety.”
Liberation turned down the pitch because of the risks involved, the newspaper wrote. Even so, Mr. Dubois flew from Bamako to Gao. There he spent several hours in his hotel and went to lunch. Two days later, however, he did not show up on his return flight to Bamako and was reported missing by the French embassy in Mali, Liberation said.
“The report of the kidnapping of this reporter is another cruel blow to journalism in the Sahel,” said Arnaud Froger, head of Reporters Without Borders’ Africa office, in a statement referring to the sub-Saharan region extends from Senegal to Sudan.
Armed groups operating in Mali and other countries in the Sahel have made it increasingly difficult for journalists to report from the region. Last month in Burkina Faso two Spanish journalists who were making a documentary about combating poaching and an Irish ranger were kidnapped and killed.
Central and northern Mali have become particularly dangerous since 2013 when France sent its armed forces to the West African country, a former French colony, after armed Islamists took control of its northern cities.
Since then, French and Malian forces have struggled to stop a number of extremist groups, some of which are affiliated with al-Qaeda or the Islamic State, which have spread violence across the border areas of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger and elsewhere in the region.
In 2013, two French journalists who work for Radio France Internationale, Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon, were killed by Islamist insurgents in Mali in still dire circumstances.
Mali has experienced severe institutional instability over the past year. After months of protests against corruption, bloodshed and electoral disruption, a coup in August overthrew President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and replaced him with Bah N’Daou, a retired colonel and former defense minister.