Suspected al Qaeda-linked militants in northern Mali have decapitated a Tuareg hostage seized last week for purportedly acting as an informer for French forces in the region, a Malian security source said on Wednesday.
Residents of the village of Zouera, some 80 km (50 miles) north of Timbuktu, said the man’s head had been found, and four other Tuareg men, taken with him last week, had been released.
The man’s family said they had recovered the rest of his body. They gave no further details.
Witnesses last week said that a group of heavily armed men on pickup trucks had kidnapped the Tuaregs, including an elder of the Kel Ansar tribe.
The security source, who asked not to be named, said the kidnappers were believed to be members of the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the north African branch of the armed Islamist movement.
He said the kidnapped Tuaregs were suspected of acting as intelligence agents for some 3,000 French forces as they mount a counter-terrorist operation in the Sahel region including Mali and neighbouring countries.
France deployed ground and air forces to Mali last year in a five-month offensive to dislodge a coalition of Islamist groups allied to al Qaeda that had seized control of the northern two-thirds of the West African country.
Small groups of Islamist forces remain in the vast desert zone carrying out attacks on U.N. peacekeepers.