NEW: A statement surfaces on Sahara Media with a claim of responsibility
The two journalists were reportedly abducted after interviewing a rebel
They were killed over the weekend
Officials: The suspects were taken to the local French army base for questioning
Days after two French journalists were killed in northern Mali, authorities rounded up dozens of suspects and a group linked to al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the deaths.
At least 30 suspects were seized in desert camps near the town of Kidal and taken to the local French army base for questioning, three officials in Mali said. The officials did not want to be named because they are not authorized to talk to the media.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has allegedly claimed responsibility for the killings, according to Sahara Media news agency in Mauritania. AQIM operates in northern Africa and the group’s statements have shown up before on the Sahara outlet.
Radio France International journalists Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon were abducted in front of the home of a member of the Tuareg rebels’ National Movement of a Liberation of Azawad on Saturday, RFI reported.
They were found dead the same day. Their bodies arrived in Paris on Tuesday.
Kidal was one of the strongholds of the Islamic militant Tuareg uprising last year that plunged Mali into chaos after a military-led coup. Following the coup, Tuareg rebels occupied the northern half of the country.
A response to “crimes” against Muslims in Azawad
AQIM said the killings were in response to the “crimes” perpetrated by France as well as African and international troops against Muslims in Azawad.
Azawad is an area in northern Mali that separatist Tuareg rebels describe as the cradle of their nomadic civilization. AQIM said that this is just the beginning and that French President Francois Hollande will pay more in response to this “new crusade” against Muslims, according to the purported claim.
Earlier this year, as part of France’s intervention to flush out Islamist militants in Mali, the French military secured the area around Kidal, the last major town that was under rebel control in northern Mali.
CNN’s Pierre Meilhan and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report