Five days after the release of Soumaïla Cissé, Sophie Pétronin and two Italian hostages of the Islamist and Muslim support group linked to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, in exchange for jihadist fighters, there are still many questions surrounding this exchange.
We know a little more every day about released jihadists in return for the four hostages. We now know their number. Having long cautiously claimed that there were several dozen, we now know with certainty that they were more than 200. Two hundred and six is the most reliable figure, though some players stick to 204. It It must be said that they were extracted from the central detention center in Bamako in particular, but also from state security cells, the Malian intelligence services, for which the culture of secrecy is a working condition.
A few leaders and many small hands
We also know more about the identity of the released. Negotiations continued on this subject and many things were said and then rejected. We know that there were a few leaders among them, including people involved in the bloodiest attacks that marked Mali and the region: The terrace in Bamako, Byblos in Sévaré, Grand Bassam in Ivory Coast, Ouagadougou in Burkina … Some of the released prisoners were therefore among the attackers or organizers of these attacks.
After all, it’s mostly small hands. Some even claim that there were innocent people. It must be said that in Malian prisons there are very few among all those suspected of belonging to terrorist groups who have actually been brought before a judge. In any case, more than 200 people are now free thanks to this exchange. And those who are not prominent figures in the support group for Islam and Muslims are now seen to put it mildly. They therefore further intensify the terrorist threat in Mali and in neighboring countries.
Some information about a potential ransom
GSIM is a coalition of jihadist groups led by Malian Tuareg Iyad Ag Ghali, the founder of Ansar Dine, and led by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. The negotiations on the jihadist side were not led by Iyad Ag Ghali, but by one of his right-wingers: Seidane Ag Hitta, unfortunately known for his involvement in the assassination of Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlonin Kidal in 2013, but also directly or indirectly in other hostage cases in the Sahel.
We hardly know anything about a potential ransom. A classic of hostages. We can see it more clearly, generally much later. According to various sources and observers, this ransom could reach 10 to 20 million euros. It is difficult to confirm this information with any certainty, just as it is very difficult to say who put his hand in the pocket between France, Mali, Italy or the Vatican … Qatar was even mentioned for a while.
The Élysée says it played a secondary role
According to the Elysee, France’s role in this affair would be secondary in the first place. It is certain that the initiative and conduct of the negotiations are to the credit of the Malian authorities. They had started and largely advanced during the presidency of Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and finally continued to end after the military coup on 18 August last year.
According to an article in the Médiapart, these negotiations could even have been concluded this summer if France had not intervened to bind fate to Sophie Pétronin to Soumaïla Cissé, so that the second is not released without the first. What Paris denies. Just like he refuses to pay a ransom.
On the other counterpart, the alleged liberated jihadists, did France have the right to control? It is the French force Barkhane that arrests the majority of terrorists filling the Malian prisons. Paris assures that it has not been aware of this or that it has had an influence on the terms of the negotiations. But it is still too early to claim to answer all the questions that this kind of affair raises.