UPDATE 1-Al Qaeda group claims killing of French journalists in Mali -report

Wed Nov 6, 2013 12:53pm EST

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NOUAKCHOTT Nov 6 (Reuters) - Mauritanian news website Sahara Medias said on Wednesday it had received a claim from al Qaeda's regional wing for the killing at the weekend of two French journalists in northern Mali.

Abdallah Mohamedi, head of Sahara Medias, said the claim had been emailed by fighters loyal to Abdelkrim al-Targui, a senior regional commander for al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Sahara Medias is often sent statements by Islamist militants in Mali.

According to a communique published by the website, AQIM said the killings of the two journalists for Radio France International on Saturday in Kidal was a response to "crimes perpetrated by France and its U.N., Malian and African allies".

France launched a major ground and air military operation in January that drove Islamist militants from the towns of northern Mali. It now aims to hand control to a gradually deploying U.N. mission designed to reach 12,600 members.

The AQIM communique said this was only a small part of the price French President Francois Hollande and his people would pay in retaliation for the Mali offensive.

In March, AQIM announced it had killed another French hostage, Philippe Verdon, in response to France's intervention in Mali. His body was found by French troops in July.

Last week, four other French hostages kidnapped by Islamists in neighbouring Niger were released.

On Tuesday, France announced it had bolstered its military presence by 150 troops in Kidal - a northern stronghold of Tuareg separatist rebels where instability has grown in recent months.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said after the killings that Paris would not delay a planned reduction of its troop presence from 3,200 to 1,000 scheduled for February. (Reporting by Laurent Prieur; Writing by Daniel Flynn and David Lewis; Editing by Alistair Lyon)