PARIS (AP) – Prime Minister Jean Castex paid homage on Friday to six French aid workers killed last week in Niger, saying they were likely victims of the same kind of hate behind the 2015 terror attack on a French music hall.
Castex bowed his head before the six coffins draped in blue aligned in a special room at Orly airport in a simple, solemn ceremony for those killed last Sunday along with two others at a reserve for giraffes, 70 kilometers (45 miles) from their base in the capital, Niamey.
The six worked for Paris-based ACTED, another victim for the Swiss-based Impact International and the eighth was an expert guide.
Their deaths are “the incarnation of evil,” Castex said.
“It’s very probably the same hate in Niger as at the Bataclan,” he said. The attack claimed by the Islamic State group on the Paris music hall and nearby restaurants five years ago killed 130 people.
It is not known who killed the unarmed humanitarian workers, but the French prosecutors’ office opened a terrorism-linked investigation and Castex said terrorism was the likely motive.
French investigators went to Niger to help in the probe and Castex promised the killers would be “relentlessly tracked.”
“All of France grieves for its children,” the prime minister said in his homage at what was described as a national ceremony with two ministers at his side.
The head of another well-known humanitarian group, Pierre Micheletti of Action Against Hunger, took exception to what appeared to him an effort to officially link those killed in Niger with the French state, insisting that the victims did not represent France.
If they are seen as representatives of the state, “this exposes us tomorrow,” he said in an interview ahead of the ceremony on CNews television, stressing that aid workers represent international humanitarian law.
“To hold up the idea that volunteers represent France is to expose us tomorrow to other security dramas,” he said, adding that with that image it would not be possible to send volunteers in the future to places where France is politically or militarily engaged.
Thousands of French soldiers are posted in the Sahel region in a fight against Islamic State, al-Qaida and other militants. The operation’s main base is in Niger.