NOUAKCHOTT The Mauritanian news website Sahara Medias said on Wednesday it had received a claim of responsibility from al Qaeda's regional wing for the killing of two French journalists in northern Mali.
A Sahara Medias reporter said a spokesman for Abdelkrim al-Targui, a senior regional commander for al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), had called by satellite phone to read a communique in Arabic. The caller had started by speaking in Tamashek, the language spoken by Tuaregs in northern Mali.
The communique said the killing was only a small part of the price French President Francois Hollande and his people would have to pay for this year's military intervention, which drove out Islamist militants who had seized half the country.
Sahara Medias is often sent statements by Islamist militants in Mali.
According to the communique published on Sahara Medias' website, AQIM said the killing of the two journalists for Radio France International on Saturday was a response to "crimes perpetrated by France and its U.N., Malian and African allies".
France now shares security duties in Mali with African and U.N. peacekeepers and local troops, which generally keep a low profile.
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, and where the journalists were abducted.
Malian Justice Minister Mohamed Ali Bathily told the French channel BFM TV that analysis of mobile phone data "indicates that some of the arrested people were in contact with AQIM".
The French daily Le Monde reported on Tuesday that three of the four abductors had been identified by French intelligence and the military as Islamists from a Tuareg clan, after a document was found in a car abandoned at the scene.
A French government spokeswoman declined to comment and an official at the French presidency said Paris was supporting the Malian government so that the murders did not go unpunished.
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 neighboring Niger were released.
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.
It aims to hand control of security to a U.N. mission that will number 12,600 when it reaches full strength.
Mali is due to hold a parliamentary election on November 24 to follow a presidential vote held in August.
(Reporting by Laurent Prieur; Writing by Daniel Flynn and David Lewis; Editing by Kevin Liffey)