Philippe Verdon
French nationals Philippe Verdon (R) and Serge Lazarevic, who were kidnapped by Al Qaeda, are seen surrounded by masked men holding guns in an undisclosed location in Mali, in this undated handout picture. REUTERS/Handout

A French businessman captured in Mali in 2011 was executed in retaliation for France’s Mali offensive, a man claiming to be a spokesman for Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) told Mauritania's ANI news agency on Tuesday.

A man who identified himself as Al-Qairawani and claimed to be an AQIM spokesman said that the French "spy" had been executed "on Mar. 10 in response to France's intervention in Northern Mali."

"The French President [Francois] Hollande is responsible for the lives of the other French hostages," he told ANI.

A French foreign office spokesman said early Wednesday that they were trying to verify the report of the killing of Philippe Verdon on Mar 10, adding that there was no confirmation yet on the reliability of the information, the BBC reported.

Verdon and another Frenchman, Serge Lazarevic, were seized at their hotel in the town of Hombori in Nov. 2011 while on a business trip.

AQIM had claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and published photos of the pair in captivity.

Apart from Verdon, an estimated 14 French hostages are currently under detention in Western Africa, including seven believed to be held in the Sahel by Al-Qaeda and its affiliates.

France deployed troops in Mali on Jan. 11 this year to contain the expansion of Al-Qaeda-linked fighters who had established strongholds in northern Mali since Apr. 2012 and had been posing a threat to Bamako, the capital.

France now has more than 4,000 troops on the ground in the country, including 1,200 deployed in the northeast, carrying out clean-up operations after a reportedly successful crackdown on the Islamist rebels.

Western nations fear that the insurgents, with the support from AQIM, could use Mali as a base for unleashing terror on the West and expanding the influence of Islamist militants in Yemen, Somalia and North Africa.