DAKAR — France says its timetable for withdrawing troops from Mali remains firm despite an upsurge in violence and the kidnapping and execution of two French journalists.
French and Malian authorities continue their search for the four armed men who grabbed the journalists Saturday in the northern rebel stronghold of Kidal.
Radio France International reports that dozens of people have been arrested in northern Mali in connection with the killing of RFI journalists Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon outside Kidal on Saturday.
The French government says the killings were the work of "terrorist groups." French newspaper Le Monde is reporting possible links between the kidnappers and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.
The grabbing of the two journalists came just days after the liberation of four French hostages in neighboring Niger. The men had been held by AQIM for three years.
The French government said it did not pay a ransom, but French media reported that as much as $27 million exchanged hands.
Analysts say that while we do not yet know the identity and intentions of the men who grabbed the journalists in Kidal, the timing raises questions.
Mohamed Ould Mahmoud, a leader of the Arab berebiche community in Timbuktu, says "you have to ask: was this a consequence of that ransom payment? Who won and who lost out in that deal? Who was strengthened by that money?"
He said there are many possible scenarios. This could have been the work of armed men who saw that the kidnap-for-ransom business was up and running again and so grabbed the journalists hoping to sell them. Or this could have been about revenge, perhaps disgruntled intermediaries who are typically involved in hostage negotiations but who may have been kept out of this most recent deal.
Analysts say the tragedy underlines the confused and precarious security situation in Kidal, the birthplace of the Tuareg separatist movement, the MNLA. That rebellion is on hold ahead of peace talks slated to get underway by the end of the year.
The MNLA continue to move freely, but they aren't the only armed fighters in the area, and there is crossover and overlap between groups.
There are also French, Malian and U.N. troops in Kidal.
France sent another 150 soldiers up to Kidal this week but says it still plans to draw down its troops in Mali from 3,000 to 1,000 by the end of the year.
France intervened in Mali in January to stop a southern advance by the al-Qaida-linked Islamist groups who had controlled northern Mali for nearly a year.
Sweeps continue throughout the formerly occupied zones which have been hit by suicide bombings and other attacks since being liberated.