The release of Sophie Pétronin and Soumaïla Cissé completes an operation whose underside remains unclear. Prior to the release on the weekend of October 3 and 4, by the new Malian authorities, a significant number of prisoners – more than 200 years old, according to an al-Qaeda news agency – were presented by Malian officials as well as jihadists. Was the release of the jihadists as a bargaining chip for these hostages held in the Sahel the decisive factor in the release of Sophie Pétronin and Soumaïla Cissé? The question was asked by Sylvie Berruet to Ibrahim Maïga, a researcher at ISS, Institute for Security Studies.
RFI: Was the release of the jihadists as a bargaining chip to the hostages in the Sahel the decisive factor in the release of Sophie Pétronin and Soumaila Cissé?
Ibrahim Maïga: Hard to say at this point. This is, of course, one of the important elements, because it is a counterpart that is important for the groups, because it not only allows possible release of fighters, often experienced warriors, lieutenants, but also to create a kind of craze around their movement in it or the areas where these elements originate. The idea behind it is to show that the support group for Islam and Muslims, GSIM, does not forget anyone, does not forget its men and is also capable of liberating its men, no matter what. in costs. And even if they are stopped by Barkhane [opération militaire des forces françaises au Sahel] or by other national armies.
You’re talking about these men arrested by Barkhane or by an international force, do we not risk a controversy today after the return to nature of these dozens of jihadists arrested during military operations??
The controversy is not new. It happens every time a hostage is released, it will continue to swell, probably because the security situation on earth is deteriorating. People continue to experience insecurity and experience insecurity in their flesh. Therefore, it is inevitable that this controversy will return to the forefront of public space. And this is not the first time we have had a controversy of this kind. Every time a hostage is released in return for the release of suspected jihadists, we have the same controversy.
You mean payment of a ransom?
In addition to the issue of payment of the ransom, it is especially the symbolism behind. The fact that people who are arrested, sometimes in large numbers, are released in an opaque way, of course when we are in one of the affected localities and we hear this information, there is reason to wonder about the good- based. But once again, I think that in addition to the number and the number – we are talking about 200, we do not have an exact number – it is above all the quality of the individuals: were they really fighters, because it must be remembered, we are talking about 200 men, held in prisons, in Malian prisons and in DGSE prisons, so the security of the state, but we do not know much about these individuals -it. Did we have sufficiently solid cases about them to bring them to justice and get them convicted? All of these questions deserve to be asked.
It is true that on this question of the risk of the alleged jihadists who have been released, we can ask the question of who they really are. There may be people who are just gasoline holders, others who are leaders, organizers. The question I ask myself and ask you: do you think France was consulted at the time of the release of these releases? It is clear that most of those arrested were forcibly arrested and handed over to the sovereign Malian authorities. In this kind of deal, the Malians could hear the French according to you?
It is entirely possible. It is very possible. As you yourself said, some of the people arrested in these attacks were arrested by Operation Barkhane as part of a patrol of an operation led by Barkhane. It is not surprising that Mali, supported by Operation Barkhane, at least discusses and exchanges about the identities of the people released in the wild, especially as a certain number of aggregate files presented to the prosecutor are also drawn up by the elements of Barkhane. So there is nothing shocking in reality to consult the French operation Barkhane, which is once again intervening at the request of Mali from the Malian government to fight the armed groups known as terrorists. So it is almost normal somewhere that Barkhane is connected and effectively avoids the feeling one may have or which one may give to some of the partners. On the one hand, we claim to be fighting terrorist groups, and on the other hand, we are releasing those who have been arrested.