Is al-Qaeda holding French intelligence officers captive?
March 21, 2013 5 Comments
By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Two French citizens kidnapped last November by an al-Qaeda-linked militant group, while on an alleged business trip in Mali, may have connections with French intelligence. One of the two hostages, Philippe Verdon, made headlines on Wednesday, after it was alleged that he may have been executed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The website of the Agence Nouakchott d’Information, a Mauritanian news service that frequently carries AQIM press statements, said that Verdon was killed on March 10 in retaliation for France’s military operations in Mali. Verdon was kidnapped from a hotel in the northeastern Malian city of Hombori along with another French citizen, Serge Lazarević. Their families insist that the two Frenchmen were abducted while “doing a feasibility study for a future cement factory” in Mali. But is this true? Or could Serge Lazarević be the same Slobodan “Serge” Lazarević, who was implicated in a 1999 French intelligence operation aimed at assassinating Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević? As intelNews reported in January of 2009, three alleged French-handled intelligence operatives were put on trial in Serb capital Belgrade, allegedly for collaborating with a French commando team tasked with assassinating the Serb leader. The three, Jugoslav Petrušić, Slobodan Orašanin and Milorad Pelemiš, were arrested by Yugoslav authorities in November 1999, reportedly while trying to organize “10 trained commandos to storm the presidential residence”. Although sensational, the charges against the three men are hardly unique in the context of the murky intelligence history of NATO’s 1999-2000 war in Yugoslavia, which has yet to be fully written. What is interesting in this case, however, is that the three accused admitted infiltrating the Yugoslav military and routinely supplying NATO with intelligence data on bombing targets during Operation Allied Force. They also admitted being part of a French intelligence unit called Spider Squad, led by their leader, Jugoslav Petrušić, who is a dual Serb and French citizen and was allegedly recruited by French intelligence in the late 1980s. Petrušić told his interrogators that, in the mid-1990s, he helped French intelligence transport nearly 200 Bosnian Serb mercenaries to Zaire, where they fought in support of Mobutu Sese Seko, who was then the country’s President. It was in Zaire, Serbian government sources claimed, that Petrušić was tasked by French intelligence with organizing an assassination team to target Milošević. He and the two other Spider Squad members arrived in Serbia in 1999, where they received money from Paris and were allegedly transported through Hungary by no other than Slobodan “Serge” Lazarević, who, according to Serb government prosecutors, is a Hungarian-born French intelligence agent. Could this be the same Serge Lazarević who is now in the hands of AQIM? And if so, what was he really doing in northern Mali, along with Philippe Verdon? As is usual in these cases, there are more questions than answers here, so a clarification from the French government might be in order.