ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — An Algerian splinter group from al-Qaida has beheaded a French hostage over France’s airstrikes on the Islamic State group, in a sign of the possible widening of the crisis in Iraq and Syria to the rest of the region.
The killing of Herve Gourdel, a mountaineer who was kidnapped while hiking in Algeria, was a “cowardly assassination,” a visibly upset French President Francois Hollande said Wednesday, but he vowed to continue the military operation.
“Herve Gourdel is dead because he is the representative of a people — ours — that defends human dignity against barbarity,” Hollande said on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York. “France will never cede to terrorism because it is our duty, and, more than that, because it is our honor.”
On Friday, France joined the U.S. in conducting airstrikes on the Islamic State group in Iraq. Two days later, the Islamic State group called on Muslims to attack foreign targets, and the response in Algeria raised the specter of attacks on Westerners elsewhere.
Gourdel, a 55-year-old mountaineering guide from Nice, was seized Sunday night while hiking in the Djura Djura mountains of northern Algeria. His Algerian companions were released.
A group calling itself Jund al-Khilafah, or “Soldiers of the Caliphate,” split from al-Qaida and pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group two weeks ago. It seized Gourdel in response to the call to kill the “spiteful and filthy French.” It gave France 24 hours to end its air campaign.
A video posted online showed masked gunmen standing 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. The video showed the captive pushed to the ground and blindfolded before he was beheaded.
The videos from the group were similar to those from the Islamic State group, which killed two American journalists and a British aid worker in recent weeks.
“It is not the first time France has been affected by terrorist acts,” Hollande told an unusual session of the U.N. Security Council chaired by President Barack Obama. “And we have never given in. Every time, we come out of these things more robust, with greater solidarity.”