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Police detain journalist over report of France’s complicity in Egypt’s killing of civilians in 2018-19

French police officers have detained French reporter Ariane Lavrilleux to find sources of leak that revealed France’s complicity in the extrajudicial killings in Egypt’s Western Desert.

Police in France have arrested an investigative journalist who reported two years ago that Egyptian security forces had used intelligence supplied by the French military to allegedly target and kill civilians suspected of smuggling on the Libyan border between 2016 and 2018.

According to the investigative website Disclose, police officers from the General Directorate of Internal Security (DGSI) detained French reporter Ariane Lavrilleux and searched her property on Tuesday, in an attempt to find sources of leak that revealed France’s complicity in the extrajudicial killings in Egypt’s Western Desert.

"The objective of this unacceptable attack on press freedom is to identify the Disclose's sources, which made it possible to reveal the military operation Sirli, carried out by France in Egypt on behalf of the dictatorship," the website said in a statement.

"Accompanied by an investigating judge, police officers from DGSI placed the journalist in police custody as part of an investigation for compromising national defense secrets and revealing information which may lead to the identification of a protected agent," it added.

Lavrilleux's lawyer Virginie Marquet, warned that the crackdown "risks seriously undermining the confidentiality of journalists' sources", adding that her client had "only revealed information of public interest".

In a tweet, Reporters Without Borders also denounced Lavrilleux's arrest, saying "We fear that the DGSI's actions will undermine the secrecy of sources."

Lavrilleux wrote a series of articles published on Disclose in November 2021 that was based on hundreds of leaked classified documents, alleging that France has provided intelligence to the Egyptian authorities as part of “Operation Sirli” which was designed to provide intelligence on militants' movements along Egypt's western border with Libya.

According to leaked classified defense documents cited by Disclose, the French military was implicated in at least 19 air strikes against civilians between 2016 and 2018. The French government has not denied the reports.

Operation Sirli began in February 2016 during the government of President Francois Hollande and continued despite the qualms expressed by both French military intelligence (DRM) and the airforce about the way Egypt was using the intelligence.

The publication of Lavrilleux’s report two years ago prompted France’s Ministry of the Armed Forces to call for an investigation.

It also filed a complaint for “violation of national defense secrecy” following the publication of the article, and a case was opened in July 2022 by the Paris prosecutor’s office that was then handed over to the DGSI.

At the time, Herve Grandjean, spokesperson for the defense ministry, said that the ministry had "taken legal action after this massive leak of classified documents", without specifying who was targeted by the complaint.

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