France: Hunt is on for terrorists in beheading
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France: Hunt is on for terrorists in beheading

Defense minister says Algerian forces searching for those responsible for killing of mountaineer Herve Gourdel

An image grab taken from a video released by Jund al-Khilafah via YouTube on September 22, 2014, allegedly shows French tourist, Herve Gourdel (center), sitting between two armed jihadists at an undisclosed location. (photo credit: AFP/HO/Jund al-Khilafah via YouTube)
An image grab taken from a video released by Jund al-Khilafah via YouTube on September 22, 2014, allegedly shows French tourist, Herve Gourdel (center), sitting between two armed jihadists at an undisclosed location. (photo credit: AFP/HO/Jund al-Khilafah via YouTube)

PARIS (AP) — France’s defense minister has said Algerian forces are hunting for the Muslim terrorists who beheaded a French mountaineer over France’s airstrikes on the Islamic State group.

Jean-Yves Le Drian also said France, which has limited airstrikes so far to Iraq, would continue to evaluate whether to extend them to Syria, as the United States has done to thwart the terrorists’ advances. He said French jets were in flight even as he spoke.

Le Drian told RTL radio on Friday that the goal of the groups was to “spread terror” after he was asked about the 30,000 French citizens living in Algeria.

Herve Gourdel was seized Sunday while hiking in the Djura Djura mountains of northern Algeria. His Algerian companions were freed. A group calling itself Jund al-Khilafah, or Soldiers of the Caliphate, had said they would kill the French mountaineer unless France ended its airstrikes against Islamic State fighters in Iraq within 24 hours.

French President Francois Hollande condemned Gourdel’s killing and said France would continue its fight against the Islamic State group.

“Herve Gourdel is dead because he is the representative of a people — ours — that defends human dignity against barbarity,” Hollande said, speaking along the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York. “My determination is total and this attack only reinforces it. We will continue to fight terrorism everywhere.”

France started airstrikes in Iraq on Friday, the first country to join the US military campaign against Islamic State fighters there.

The killing of a hostage represents a departure for radical Islamic groups in Algeria, which in the past decade have made millions off ransoming hostages. France is also known for paying ransoms, though several hostages have died in the past at the hands of their captors.

In the video, masked gunmen from the newly formed group that split away from al-Qaeda’s North Africa branch stood over a kneeling Gourdel. They pledged their allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and said they were fighting his enemies. They added they were following his instructions to attack the French.

The video showed the captive pushed to the ground and blindfolded before he was beheaded.

Nearly 1,000 French radicals have joined or are trying to join the Islamic State group in Syria and in Iraq — more than the number of fighters from any other Western country. French authorities are particularly concerned that they will return and stage attacks at home.

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