This will only encourage more hostage-taking, as jihadis will see the chance to free their imprisoned comrades in exchange for Western hostages. But the fact that a policy is foolish, wrongheaded and counterproductive has never stopped Western governments from pursuing it in the past, so why should France start now?
“Dangerous trade-offs: Was French hostage swapped for detained jihadists?,” by Leela Jacinto, France 24, December 10, 2014:
A day after French President François Hollande announced the release of Serge Lazarevic, who was kidnapped in Mali in November 2011, the contrast between the headlines in France and Mali could not have been starker.
While French news sites on Wednesday splashed images of a smiling Hollande greeting Lazarevic on the tarmac of a military base near Paris, Malian media displayed images of an unsmiling man sporting a Salafi beard and turban.
“Libération de Mohamed Ali Ag Wadoussene,” read the banner headline of Malian daily Le Républicain, while the Nouvel Horizon featured a story about the Malian Human Rights Association accusing the Malian government of liberating four prisoners in exchange for Lazarevic’s release.
On Tuesday, shortly after Hollande announced Lazarevic’s release, the Mali-based news site, Sahelien.com, reported that al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) had released their 50-year-old French captive in exchange for two jihadists in Malian custody. By Wednesday, a number of news organisations said at least four – some put the figure at five – inmates were freed in the prisoner swap.
The man dominating Malian news coverage, however, was the turbaned, bearded Wadoussene – an unfamiliar figure in the international community, but an infamous character for many Malians.
Earlier this year, Wadoussene hit the Francophone West African media headlines when he was recaptured in a celebrated Malian commando raid weeks after he escaped from a Bamako jail. For Malian audiences accustomed to the spectacular failures of their security services, gripping media accounts of the security operation –including monitoring Wadoussene’s girlfriend known as “Rose” – were a welcome break.
Barely six months later, Malians were discovering that the target of that spectacular commando raid had been suddenly lost in one fell swoop.
In an interview with FRANCE 24, Moctar Mariko, head of the Malian Human Rights Association, condemned the alleged prisoner swap for Lazarevic’s freedom. “Even if this is considered a success for French diplomacy, we see it as a serious violation of the rights of the Malian victims,” said Mariko. “We do not understand. We are the ones suffering here in Mali. If we have to resort to exchanging a Malian terrorist for a French hostage, it means we have nothing left going for us.”…