On July 14, in the lawless African nation of Somalia, two French men registered as journalists were eating breakfast at the Sahafi Hotel in Mogadishu. Heavily armed gunmen stormed the hotel. According to Reuters, they went room to room looking for the two men. After being located and abducted, the French citizens were turned over to al-Qaeda’s arm in Somalia, a group called al-Shabaab — this according to Lieutenant-Colonel Muhideen Ahmed, a Somalian police official.
To date, they remain hostages.
In a bizarre twist, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner went on record saying that the two men were actually posing as journalists. He said they were in fact “government security advisers” in Somalia on a mission to provide security advice for Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, Somalia’s interim president.
According to Reporters Without Borders, the title “security adviser” is a long stretch. The men were agents with General Directorate for External Security, or DGSE — France’s foreign intelligence agency. France’s DGSE functions like the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or the United Kingdom’s Secret Intelligence Service (MI-6). Reporters Without Borders was quick to condemn the situation:
“Being a journalist is not a cover, it is a profession,” its spokesman said. “We hope these two [French] advisers are freed quickly but we are shocked that they were passing themselves off as journalists. They were on an official mission and had no need of cover. Their behavior endangers journalists in a region where media personnel are already in danger.”
Anyone who recalls why Daniel Pearl was beheaded in Pakistan in 2002 need not wonder why using “journalist” as a cover puts journalists in more danger than they already are. Pearl, a journalist with the Wall Street Journal, was accused of being a spy.