A FRENCH journalist has been missing for nine months since appearing in a kidnap video apparently released by the jihadist group he sought to interview.
On April 8, 2021, Olivier Dubois had flown from Mali’s capital, Bamako, to Gao, on an arrangement made by his fixer, Agence France-Presse reported. The fixer had secured him an interview with JNIM’s leader Abdallah Ag Albakaye, the agency reported.
But on May 5, a 20-second video was posted to social media showing Dubois sitting in a tent, saying that he was in the custody of the al-Qaeda-affiliated group, Jamaa Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM).
Having lived in Mali since 2015, Dubois is well-connected — particularly in jihadist circles, according to Le Monde. Libération, the French newspaper he had been working with, reported that it declined the interview with the group on the grounds that it was too dangerous, but Dubois set out anyway.
Two days later, when he was expected back from Gao, he did not show up at the airport, AFP reported.
The French embassy in Mali did not immediately announce his disappearance as it worked behind the scenes to secure his release, The Washington Post reported. But on May 5, after the video was released, the embassy confirmed the kidnap and said it had been trying to verify the video as genuine.
His disappearance was initially kept secret in order to aid negotiations, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported.
The video was posted by a pro-al-Qaeda media outlet, Wareeth al-Qassam, according to the CPJ. Wareeth al-Qassam did not take responsibility for the kidnap, the CPJ reported. It is unclear if the footage has since been verified.
The Post reported that in the video, which it viewed, Dubois appeared to be wearing a traditional garment and sitting cross-legged on the floor.
‘I’m Olivier Dubois. I’m French. I’m a journalist. I was kidnapped in Gao on April 8 by the JNIM,’ The Post reported him as saying. ‘I’m speaking to my family, my friends and the French authorities for them to do everything in their power to free me.’
The JNIM is the largest jihadist alliance in the Sahel, the region comprising Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, and have caused widespread fear among journalists, according to France24.
On the day Dubois was kidnapped, his fixer saw him leaving his hotel and entering his car with several men, AFP reported.
Every time he headed on a dangerous assignment, Dubois handed his partner Deborah Al Hawi Al Marsi a discreet set of contacts to call in case he did not return, according to the CPJ, which is campaigning for his release.
That sheet of paper was usually destroyed as soon as he returned from those trips — but Al Marsi used it for the first time on April 10, when Dubois did not board his plane home, the CPJ reported.
In an interview with the CPJ in October, Al Marsi said that she is told very little about the process of negotiations between Malian and French authorities, but said she understands the need for secrecy.
‘We deeply miss Olivier every day,’ she told the organisation. ‘We can’t pass even one minute without thinking of him. Yesterday my five-year-old son asked me: ‘Mum, when we go to Disneyland with Dad, will we take the subway?’
‘It’s a simple question, but for me it means everything,’ she continued. ‘Olivier is still a part of our lives. Our life plans still include him and we never doubt that he will come back to us.’