Two French Soldiers Are Killed in Raid That Frees Four Hostages in Burkina Faso Express News
PARIS — A raid led by French armed forces rescued four hostages in northern Burkina Faso on Friday, as a group of hostage-takers was attempting to take them to Mali, the French authorities said. Two French soldiers died in the overnight raid.
The hostages included two Frenchmen, an American and a South Korean. It was not clear who had abducted them or was holding them, but a number of armed insurgent and terrorist groups, including the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, operate in the region.
At a news conference on Friday, France’s armed forces chief, Gen. François Lecointre, said the hostages were on their way to be transferred to the Macina Liberation Front, an Islamist militant group in Mali, and that it would have been “absolutely impossible” to set up a raid once the hostages were in the group’s hands.
Patrick Picque and Laurent Lassimouillas, the two French citizens, were abducted on May 1 while on vacation in Benin’s Pendjari National Park, on the border with Burkina Faso, where terrorist groups have stepped up attacks in recent months. Their car was found burned and their driver dead.
The identities of the American and South Korean citizens, both women who had been held hostage for 28 days, were not immediately made public by the French authorities.
Florence Parly, the armed forces minister, said that until the French forces staged the rescue, “we were not aware of their presence,” nor were the governments of South Korea or the United States.
General Lecointre said “the raid was looking for two hostages,” not four.
For days, French and American military intelligence services tracked the group that had taken the French hostages as they moved toward northern Burkina Faso. When they paused and set up a temporary camp on Thursday, General Lecointre said, he was told it would be the last chance to attempt a rescue.
After receiving a green light from President Emmanuel Macron, he ordered the raid. French officials did not say how many soldiers participated.
The commandos moved at night toward a group of six militants who had set up four shelters, the general said, and were spotted by a lookout when they were about 30 feet away. After they killed the lookout and heard militants load their weapons in the tents, the commandos assaulted the shelters.
Two French soldiers were killed at short distance. They were identified as Cédric de Pierrepont and Alain Bertoncello and had joined the Navy in 2004 and 2011. They had been deployed in the Sahel region since late March.
“France has lost two of its sons, we lose two of our brothers,” General Lecointre said.
Four militants died in the raid, and two escaped.
“The message sent to bandits and terrorists is clear: Those who attack France and the French know that we will spare no effort to track them, to find them, to neutralize them,” Ms. Parly said. “We never abandon our fellow citizens.”
Ms. Parly thanked Benin for its support, and highlighted the involvement of Burkina Faso’s forces in the raid. She acknowledged the “precious” intelligence support of American forces.
Some 4,500 French troops are deployed in a vast antiterrorism operation that stretches across five countries, from Mauritania in the west to Chad.
Between November and late March, more than 4,770 people were killed in the Sahel, the sub-Saharan region of northern Africa, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, as a recent surge of violence between ethnic groups, including bombings, massacres and abductions, has torn the region.
Despite the surge, the Trump administration plans to reduce the United States’ military presence in Africa, including a reduction from 1,200 Special Operations troops to about 900 by early 2022.
The two French citizens were on a safari tour in the remote park of Pendjari when they were abducted. France’s foreign ministry has advised against going to the park, except for “imperative reasons.”
“Travelers in the region can be exposed to risks of violent assaults,” the ministry’s website reads.
As tributes to the fallen soldiers poured on social media, so did expressions of anger at the two former hostages.
“Heroes sacrificed for reckless tourists,” Christine Segonne commented on Facebook under a tribute posted by the French Navy. “Sadness and anger.”
Mr. Macron will welcome the two Frenchmen and the South Korean former hostage on Saturday at Villacoublay airport, near Paris, the French presidency said.