Bob Denard

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Bob Denard
Mercenary Bob Denard.jpg
Other name(s)Gilbert Bourgeaud
Saïd Mustapha Mahdjoub
Born(1929-04-29)29 April 1929
Grayan-et-l'Hôpital, Gironde, France
Died13 October 2007(2007-10-13) (aged 78)
Paris, France
AllegianceFlag of France.svg  France
Flag of Katanga.svg  Katanga
Flag of Rhodesia (1968-1979).svg  Rhodesia
Flag of the Comoros (1978-1992).svg  Comoros
Service/branch French Navy
Years of serviceIndefinite
RankHead of the Presidential Guard of Ahmed Abdallah
Unit 7 Independent Company (1977–1978)
Commands heldMercenary units
Battles/wars First Indochina War
Algerian War
Katanga secession
Siege of Jadotville
North Yemen Civil War
Simba Rebellion
Operation Crevette
Rhodesian Bush War
Operation Azalee

Robert Denard (7 April 1929 13 October 2007) was a French soldier and mercenary. Sometimes known under the aliases Gilbert Bourgeaud and Saïd Mustapha Mhadjou, he was known for having performed various jobs in support of Françafrique —France's sphere of influence in its former colonies in Africa—for Jacques Foccart, co-ordinator of President Charles de Gaulle's African policy.

Mercenary Soldier who fights for hire

A mercenary, sometimes known as a soldier of fortune, is an individual who takes part in military conflict for personal profit, is otherwise an outsider to the conflict, and is not a member of any other official military. Mercenaries fight for money or other forms of payment rather than for political interests. In the last century, mercenaries have increasingly come to be seen as less entitled to protections by rules of war than non-mercenaries. Indeed, the Geneva Conventions declare that mercenaries are not recognized as legitimate combatants and do not have to be granted the same legal protections as captured soldiers of a regular army. In practice, whether or not a person is a mercenary may be a matter of degree, as financial and political interests may overlap, as was often the case among Italian condottieri.

<i lang="fr" title="French language text">Françafrique</i> Frances relationship with its former African colonies

Françafrique is France's relationship with its former African colonies. It was first used in a positive sense by President Félix Houphouët-Boigny of Côte d'Ivoire, in allusion to that country's economic growth and political stability under its alliance with France. However, the term is now often used to criticise the allegedly neocolonial relationship France has with its former colonies in Africa. Since the independence of African states in 1960, France has intervened militarily more than 30 times in the continent. France has military bases in Gabon, Senegal and Djibouti, as well as in its overseas departments of Mayotte and Réunion in the Indian Ocean. The French Army is also deployed in Mali, Chad, Central African Republic, Somalia and Ivory Coast. Françafrique was at its height from 1960 to 1989, and there is an ongoing dispute as to whether or not it still exists. In 2012 and 2013, some news outlets spoke of a "return of Françafrique". On 14 July 2013, troops from 13 African countries marched with the French military during the Bastille Day parade in Paris for the first time since French colonial troops were dissolved.

French colonial empire Set of territories that were under French rule primarily from the 17th century to the late 1960s

The French colonial empire constituted the overseas colonies, protectorates and mandate territories that came under French rule from the 16th century onward. A distinction is generally made between the "first colonial empire," that existed until 1814, by which time most of it had been lost, and the "second colonial empire", which began with the conquest of Algiers in 1830. The second colonial empire came to an end after the loss in later wars of Indochina (1954) and Algeria (1962), and relatively peaceful decolonizations elsewhere after 1960.


Having served with the French Navy in the Algerian War, the ardently anti-communist Denard took part in the Katanga secession effort in the 1960s and subsequently operated in many African countries including Congo, Angola, Rhodesia (today Zimbabwe), and Gabon. Between 1975 and 1995, he participated in four coup attempts in the Comoro Islands. It is widely believed that his adventures had the implicit support of the French state, even after the 1981 election of the French Socialist Party candidate, François Mitterrand, despite moderate changes in France's policy in Africa. [1] [2]

French Navy Maritime arm of the French Armed Forces

The French Navy, informally "La Royale", is the maritime arm of the French Armed Forces. Dating back to 1624, the French Navy is one of the world's oldest naval forces. It has participated in conflicts around the globe and played a key part in establishing the French colonial empire.

Algerian War war between France and the Algerian independence movement from 1954 to 1962

The Algerian War, also known as the Algerian War of Independence or the Algerian Revolution was fought between France and the Algerian National Liberation Front from 1954 to 1962, which led to Algeria gaining its independence from France. An important decolonization war, it was a complex conflict characterized by guerrilla warfare, maquis fighting, and the use of torture. The conflict also became a civil war between the different communities and within the communities. The war took place mainly on the territory of Algeria, with repercussions in metropolitan France.

Anti-communism political position

Anti-communism is opposition to communism. Organized anti-communism developed after the 1917 October Revolution in Russia and it reached global dimensions during the Cold War, when the United States and the Soviet Union engaged in an intense rivalry. Anti-communism has been an element of movements holding many different political positions, including nationalist, social democratic, liberal, libertarian, conservative, fascist, capitalist, anarchist and even socialist viewpoints.

Born a Roman Catholic, Denard converted first to Judaism, then to Islam, and finally back to Catholicism again. He was polygamously married seven times, and fathered eight children.

Polygamy is the practice of marrying multiple spouses. When a man is married to more than one wife at a time, sociologists call this polygyny. When a woman is married to more than one husband at a time, it is called polyandry. If a marriage includes multiple husbands and wives, it can be called a group marriage or mixed-orientation marriage.

Early career

After having served with the French Navy in Indochina and in French Algeria, [3] Denard served as a colonial policeman in Morocco from 1952 to 1957. [4] In 1954, he was convicted of an assassination plot against Prime Minister Pierre Mendès-France, a left-wing member of the Radical-Socialist Party who was negotiating the end of the Indochina War and withdrawal from Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, and served 14 months in jail. [1] An adamant anti-communist, Denard then took part in many anti-colonialist conflicts, simultaneously on his own behalf and on that of the French state. [2] Once he was freed from jail, he worked for the French secret services during the war in Algeria. [4]

First Indochina War 1946-1954 war between France and Hồ Chí Minhs forces

The First Indochina War began in French Indochina on December 19, 1946, and lasted until July 20, 1954. Fighting between French forces and their Việt Minh opponents in the south dated from September 1945. The conflict pitted a range of forces, including the French Union's French Far East Expeditionary Corps, led by France and supported by Bảo Đại's Vietnamese National Army against the Việt Minh, led by Hồ Chí Minh and the People's Army of Vietnam led by Võ Nguyên Giáp. Most of the fighting took place in Tonkin in northern Vietnam, although the conflict engulfed the entire country and also extended into the neighboring French Indochina protectorates of Laos and Cambodia.

French Algeria French colony in Northern Africa

French Algeria, also known as Colonial Algeria, began in 1830 with the invasion of Algiers and lasted until 1962, under a variety of governmental systems. From 1848 until independence, the whole Mediterranean region of Algeria was administered as an integral part of France.

Morocco Country in North Africa

Morocco, officially the Kingdom of Morocco, is a country located in the Maghreb region of North Africa with an area of 710,850 km2 (274,460 sq mi). Its capital is Rabat, the largest city Casablanca. It overlooks the Mediterranean Sea to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. Morocco claims the areas of Ceuta, Melilla and Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera, all of them under Spanish jurisdiction.

After his discharge from the French navy, Denard was briefly a policeman in Morocco and a demonstrator for washing machines in Paris. [5] He began his mercenary career, which was to span three decades, in Katanga, probably in December 1961 when he and other foreign mercenaries were brought in by the leader of the mercenaries in Katanga, Roger Faulques. He became famous after rescuing civilians encircled by rebels in Stanleyville. [6] Denard fought there until the secessionist movement led by Moise Tshombe collapsed in January 1963. Then, Denard and his men fled to Portuguese-controlled Angola.

State of Katanga unrecognised historical state in Africa

The State of Katanga, also sometimes denoted as the Republic of Katanga, was a breakaway state that proclaimed its independence from the Republic of Congo-Léopoldville on 11 July 1960 under Moise Tshombe, leader of the local Confédération des associations tribales du Katanga (CONAKAT) political party. The new Katangese state did not enjoy full support throughout the province and was constantly wracked by ethnic strife in its northernmost region. It was dissolved in 1963 following an invasion by United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC) forces, and reintegrated with the rest of the country as Katanga Province.

Angola country in Africa

Angola, officially the Republic of Angola, is a west-coast country of south-central Africa. It is the seventh-largest country in Africa, bordered by Namibia to the south, the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the north, Zambia to the east, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. Angola has an exclave province, the province of Cabinda that borders the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The capital and largest city of Angola is Luanda.

Denard is known to have participated in conflicts in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Yemen, Iran, Nigeria, Benin, Gabon, Angola, Zaire and the Comoros, the last-named nation having been subject to more than twenty coups d'état in the past decades. For most of his career Denard had the quiet backing of France and the French secret service which wished to maintain French influence over its ex-colonies. [5]

Rhodesia former country in Africa

Rhodesia was an unrecognised state in southern Africa from 1965 to 1979, equivalent in territory to modern Zimbabwe. Rhodesia was the de facto successor state to the British colony of Southern Rhodesia, which had been self-governing since achieving responsible government in 1923. A landlocked nation, Rhodesia was bordered by South Africa to the south, Bechuanaland to the southwest, Zambia to the northwest, and Mozambique to the east.

Zimbabwe republic in southern Africa

Zimbabwe, officially the Republic of Zimbabwe, is a landlocked country located in southern Africa, between the Zambezi and Limpopo Rivers, bordered by South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Mozambique. The capital and largest city is Harare. A country of roughly 16 million people, Zimbabwe has 16 official languages, with English, Shona, and Ndebele the most commonly used.

Yemen Republic in Western Asia

Yemen , officially the Republic of Yemen, is a country at the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula in Western Asia. It is the second-largest Arab sovereign state in the peninsula, occupying 527,970 square kilometres. The coastline stretches for about 2,000 kilometres. It is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north, the Red Sea to the west, the Gulf of Aden and Guardafui Channel to the south, and the Arabian Sea and Oman to the east. Yemen's territory encompasses more than 200 islands, including the largest island in the Middle East, Socotra. Yemen is a member of the Arab League, United Nations, Non-Aligned Movement and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

In mid-1963 he was in North Yemen, which was then in the middle of a civil war between a Nasserist government and royalist tribesmen. The royalists were supported by the Western European and Saudi Arabia governments. The French and British sponsored a number of mercenaries to train the royalist volunteers in military techniques, and Denard was among those who joined the Imam al-Badr, leader of the royalists. [3]

After about eighteen months Denard returned to the Congo to take employment under Moise Tshombe who was now the prime minister of the central government in Leopoldville from July 1964 till October 1965 when he was dismissed by President Joseph Kasa-Vubu. Denard served for two years in the Congo battling Simba rebels supporters of the late Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba, who had been murdered in Katanga in 1961 after having been overthrown by rival politicians and severely tortured while in transit. The Simba rebels were backed by the Chinese and Cubans, including Che Guevara while the central government were tacitly backed by the United States and Belgium. Denard was in charge of his own unit of French mercenaries called les affreux (lit. : the uglies). Denard helped to support an attempted secessionist revolt on behalf of Tshombe by Katangan separatists in July 1966. [7]

A year later Denard sided with Katangan separatists and Belgian mercenaries led by Jean Schramme in a revolt in eastern Congo. The rebels were soon bottled up in Bukavu. Denard was wounded in the initial rising and flew out with a group of more seriously wounded men to Rhodesia. In January 1968 he invaded Katanga with a force of a hundred men on bicycles in an attempt to create a diversion for a breakout from Bukavu. The invasion was a farce.

Denard was not involved in mercenary activity in Biafra during the Nigerian civil war during the late 1960s. From 1968 to 1978 he was employed supporting the government in Gabon and was available to carry out military actions on behalf of the French government in Africa. He may have been involved in a raid against Guinea in 1970. He was involved in a failed coup attempt in Benin (Opération Crevette, or Operation Shrimp), against Mathieu Kérékou, the leader of the People's Revolutionary Party of Benin, in 1977. [8] Although Jacques Foccart denied knowledge of the attempted coup after its failure, he did recognize that it had been backed-up by Gnassingbé Eyadéma (Togo), Houphouet-Boigny (Ivory Coast), Omar Bongo (Gabon) and Hassan II (Morocco), all allies of France. [8]

The Comoros

He was most active in the Comoros, making four separate attempts to overthrow the government of this small island group. On orders from Jacques Foccart, he ousted the first president, Ahmed Abdallah, who had just unilaterally proclaimed the Comoros' independence on 6 July 1975. Ahmed Abdallah was replaced by Ali Soilih.

He then failed at a coup in Benin in 1977 and carried out some operations in Rhodesia from 1977 to 1978 as part of the Rhodesian Army's short-lived French-speaking unit, 7 Independent Company. [3] With the support of the Rhodesian government, [9] he returned to the Comoros with 43 men on 13 May 1978 and carried out a coup against president Ali Soilih, who had turned toward socialist policies. Soilih was killed under mysterious circumstances on 29 May 1978. [10] The official story that Soilih was "shot while trying to escape" is not generally believed. [11] Helped by Denard, Ahmed Abdallah took the presidency back. For eleven years (1978-1989 [3] ), Denard headed Abdallah's 500-strong presidential guard and had strong influence and business interests in the archipelago, marrying and converting to Islam and eventually becoming a citizen of the country. He adopted the Islamic name Said Mustapha Mhadjou upon his conversion. [2]

The Comoros also served as his logistic base for military operations in Mozambique and Angola. He was then supported by Paris, as the Comoros provided France for a base to get around the embargo imposed on South Africa because of its government's policy of apartheid. [2] Denard accumulated considerable holdings in the Comoros, composed of hotels, lands, and the presidential guard. [2] According to Xavier Renou, author of a book on private military contractors, Denard foreshadowed the transition between traditional mercenaries to contemporary private military contractors, creating a small army during his stay in the Comoros in the 1980s. [2]

1989 coup and subsequent trial

In 1989, fearing a probable coup d'état, president Ahmed Abdallah signed a decree ordering the Presidential Guard, led by Denard, to disarm the armed forces. Shortly after the signing of the decree, a military officer allegedly entered president Abdallah's office and shot him, injuring Denard at the same time. A few days later, Denard agreed to leave the Comoros after meeting French businessman Jean-Yves Ollivier, and was evacuated to South Africa by French paratroopers. [3] [12]

Denard then waited in the Médoc region, in France, for his trial for the murder of president Ahmed Abdallah in 1989. With his lieutenant Dominique Malacrino, he had to face charges in May 1999 for his role in the 1989 coup, in which, according to the French prosecution, president Ahmed Abdallah was killed on the orders of Denard because he was about to remove Denard as head of the presidential guard. The prosecution said Ahmed Abdallah was shot on orders from Denard during a faked attack on his palace on the night of 26 November 1989. But a few days before the trial, Abdallah's family dropped their suit, and finally Denard and Dominique Malacrino were acquitted because of lack of evidence. [4] The Comoros experienced its twentieth coup attempt since independence on the day that the trial began.[ citation needed ]

Afterward, president Mohamed Taki Abdulkarim declared that he refused Denard's return to the Comoros. On 6 November 1998, Abdulkarim died under suspicious circumstances. His family suspected a poisoning and asked for an autopsy. The post-mortem examination was refused and Abdulkarim was said to have died of natural causes.[ citation needed ]

1995 coup and subsequent trial

On the night of 27 September 1995 Denard launched a fourth coup Operation Kaskari , in the Comoros. Denard landed on the Comoros with 33 men in Zodiac inflatable boats in an attempted coup against president Said Mohamed Djohar, Abdallah's successor. On 4 October, in accordance with an agreement between France and the Comoros, the French army put an end to the attempt. The French government sent an expeditionary force to capture Denard and his mercenaries. Despite having over 300 armed Comorians ready to fight and having machine gun posts set up, Denard surrendered without a shot being fired. Denard was brought back to France by the French DGSE intelligence agency [ citation needed ] and spent ten months in a Paris jail. At his trial a number of former Gaullist politicians, including Charles Pasqua, spoke on his behalf.[ citation needed ]

Later trials and death

In 2001, Guido Papalia, Italian attorney of Verona, prosecuted Denard for having tried to recruit mercenaries in the far-right Italian movement (through Franco Nerozzi) in order to make a coup against Colonel Azali Assoumani, the current president, also opposed to his return to the Comoros.

On 9 March 2006, attorney Olivier Bray asked for five years of prison for the 1995 coup d'état against Said Mohamed Djohar under the code-name "Eskazi", and sentences between one and four years for his 26 accomplices. During the three-week-long trial, Denard and his accomplices tried to convince the court that they had acted with implicit support of French authorities. Dominique Malacrino talked about the "numerous phone calls of Jacques Foccart, then responsible for the African office at the Elysée palace" to Denard. Emmanuel Pochet, another suspect, declared that Denard had "support from senior officers of the special forces of the DGSE", the French external intelligence agency. Olivier Feneteau, another suspect, declared that he had belonged in the past to the "action service" of the DGSE. On 9 March, Denard's lawyer presented declarations by former president Djohar, who had stated, during an interview to Comorian newspaper Kashkazi at the end of October 2005, that his security chief, Captain Rubis, a French officer that the French authorities had recommended to him, "was aware of the coup". [13]

In June 2006 Denard, who by then was suffering from Alzheimer's, was found guilty of "belonging to a gang who conspired to commit a crime", and was given a five-year suspended jail term. [14] During the trial, the role of the French secret services in the 1995 coup against Saïd Djohar was recognized, but not deemed sufficient to discharge the mercenaries of their guilt. [15] However, the knowledge of the French authorities of the attempted coup was one of the reasons given by the Court to abstain from ordering a firm prison sentence. [15] During his trial in 2006 before the Court of Appeal, a former head of the foreign intelligence service explicitly stated that "When special services are unable to undertake certain kinds of undercover operation, they use parallel structures. This was the case of Bob Denard." [1] In July 2007, he was sentenced by the Court of Appeal to four years in prison (three of them suspended). [16] However, he never served his sentence for health reasons. [1]

His death was announced by his sister on 14 October 2007. [17]

Religious beliefs

Born a Catholic, Denard converted to Judaism in Morocco, Islam in the Comoros, and finally back to Catholicism. [18] His funeral took place at the Paris church of Saint-François Xavier. [19]

See also

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  1. 1 2 3 4 Obituary: Bob Denard, BBC, 14 October 2007
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Bob Denard a toujours agi pour le compte de l'Etat français", interview with Xavier Renou in Le Monde , 15 October 2007 ‹See Tfd› (in French)
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 L'ancien mercenaire Bob Denard est mort, Le Figaro , October 14, 2007. ‹See Tfd› (in French)
  4. 1 2 3 François Dominguez and Barbara Vignaux, La nébuleuse des mercenaires français, Le Monde diplomatique , August 2003. ‹See Tfd› (in French) (Arabic and Portuguese translations)
  5. 1 2 John Lichfield Bob Denard The Independent, October 16, 2007
  6. Sophie Nicholson Bob Denard: French mercenary behind several post-colonial coups The Guardian, October 16, 2007
  7. "Congo Arrests European Mercenaries", Milwaukee Sentinel, July 28, 1966, p2
  8. 1 2 Bob Denard, chien de guerre Archived October 1, 2009, at the Wayback Machine , L'Humanité , 4 May 1999 ‹See Tfd› (in French)
  9. Moorcraft, Paul L.; McLaughlin, Peter (April 2008) [1982]. The Rhodesian War: A Military History. Barnsley: Pen and Sword Books. pp. 120–121. ISBN   978-1-84415-694-8.
  10. A man and his dog TIME Magazine, August 21, 1978
  11. Hebditch, David & Connor, Ken How to Stage a Military Coup: From Planning to Execution New York: Skyhorse Publishing Inc page 136.
  12. "COMOROS ISLANDS : SAID HILALI - Issue 570 dated 10/04/1993 - The Indian Ocean Newsletter". The Indian Ocean Newsletter. 1993-04-10. Retrieved 2017-09-17.
  13. "Putsch aux Comores : cinq ans de prison requis contre Bob Denard". Le Monde (in French). March 9, 2006.
  14. French 'dog of war' spared jail, BBC News Online , June 20, 2006.
  15. 1 2 Bob Denard est condamné à cinq ans de prison avec sursis, Le Monde (originally published on 21 June 2006, actualized on 14 October 2007). ‹See Tfd› (in French)
  16. "Décès de l'ancien mercenaire Bob Denard", Agence France-Presse, October 14, 2007 on-line Archived October 16, 2007, at the Wayback Machine .
  17. French mercenary Bob Denard dies, BBC News, October 14, 2007.
  18. ["Robert Young Pelton's The World's Most Dangerous Places: 5th Edition", Robert Young Pelton, Collins Reference, 2003, p.270: "Denard has seven wives and has at various times converted to Judaism (in Morocco) and Islam (in the Comoros) and then back to Catholicism."]
  19. Gabriele Adinolfi, The leave Parisian Bob Denard, in Century Italy, 19 October 2007.]