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France vows Mali hostage death 'won't go unpunished'

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French nationals Philippe Verdon (front R) and Serge Lazarevic (C) are held by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) at an undisclosed location in an undated image released by Al-Andalus, the media branch of AQIM. President Francois Hollande said Monday there is a "very strong" chance that a body found in northern Mali is that of Verdon and vowed the killing would not go unpunished.ANI/AQIM/AFP/File

President Francois Hollande said Monday there is a "very strong" chance that a body found in northern Mali is that of a French hostage and vowed the killing would not go unpunished.

Philippe Verdon, who was kidnapped by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) from a hotel while on business in northeastern Mali in November 2011, was already believed to be dead.

His captors announced in March that the 53-year-old had been executed in response to France's military intervention in Mali.

"We found a body 10 days ago in northern Mali, we are doing everything possible to confirm that this could be, alas, the body of Philippe Verdon," Hollande said at Mali's embassy to Paris, where he was awarded the highest rank in the country's National Order.

"We will then determine the cause of death and nothing will go unpunished," Hollande said.

AQIM is currently holding hostage eight Europeans, including five French nationals.

French forces intervened in Mali in January to help the weak Malian military drive out Islamist rebels who had seized control of the country's north.