Robert Denard (7 April 1929 – 13 October 2007) was a French soldier and mercenary. Sometimes known under the aliases Gilbert Bourgeaud and Saïd Mustapha Mahdjoub, 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.
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.
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.
|Born||29 April 1929|
Grayan-et-l'Hôpital, Gironde, France
|Died||13 October 2007 (aged 78)|
|Years of service||Indefinite|
|Rank||Head of the Presidential Guard of Ahmed Abdallah|
|Unit||7 Independent Company (1977–1978)|
|Commands held||Mercenary units|
|Battles/wars||First Indochina War|
North Yemen Civil War
Rhodesian Bush War
After having served with the French Navy in Indochina and in French Algeria, Denard served as a colonial policeman in Morocco from 1952 to 1957. 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. 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. Once he was freed from jail, he worked for the French secret services during the war in Algeria.
After his discharge from the French navy, Denard was briefly a policeman in Morocco and a demonstrator for washing machines in Paris. 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. 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.
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.
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.
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 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 America and Belgium. Denard was in charge of his own unit of French mercenaries called les affreux (lit. : the awfuls). Denard helped to support an attempted secessionist revolt on behalf of Tshombe by Katangan separatists in July 1966.
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. 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.
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. With the support of the Rhodesian government, 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. The official story that Soilih was "shot while trying to escape" is not generally believed. Helped by Denard, Ahmed Abdallah took the presidency back. For eleven years (1978-1989), 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 Mahdjoub upon his conversion.
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. Denard accumulated considerable holdings in the Comoros, composed of hotels, lands, and the presidential guard. 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.
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.
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. The Comoros experienced its twentieth coup attempt since independence on the day that the trial began.
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.
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 and spent ten months in a Paris jail. At his trial a number of former Gaullist politicians, including Charles Pasqua, spoke on his behalf.
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".
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. 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. 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. 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." In July 2007, he was sentenced by the Court of Appeal to four years of prison (one firm, three suspended). However, he never served his sentence for health reasons.
His death was announced by his sister on 14 October 2007.
Events from the year 1929 in France.1977 Benin coup d'état attempt
The 1977 Benin coup d'état attempt, Opération Crevette or Operation Shrimp was a failed attempt by a team of French-led mercenaries to overthrow the government of Benin which was then led by Mathieu Kérékou whose communist party, the People's Revolutionary Party of Benin was the only allowed political party in the country. The coup took place on 17 January 1977 and included a failed invasion of the port city of Cotonou by mercenaries contracted by a group of exiled Beninese political rivals.Bob Denard was the leader of the mercenary group and 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.The coup would be one of several against Kérékou who survived numerous attempts to oust him, including two coup attempts in 1988.1995 in France
Events from the year 1995 in France.1996 Comorian presidential election
Presidential elections were held in the Comoros on 6 March 1996, with a second round on 16 March. They were won by Mohamed Taki Abdoulkarim, who had come second in the 1990 elections (despite winning the most votes in the first round), and who had briefly served as acting President in October 1995 in the aftermath of another coup attempt led by Bob Denard.2007 in France
Events from the year 2007 in France.7 Independent Company (Rhodesia)
7 Independent Company (7 Indep Coy; French: 7ème Compagnie indépendante) was a short-lived company of francophone volunteers in the Rhodesian Army during the Rhodesian Bush War. Numbering about 200 men at its peak, it was unique in the history of the Rhodesian Army as an exclusively expatriate unit. It existed between November 1977 and May 1978 as a company in the 1st Battalion, the Rhodesia Regiment, and served two counter-insurgency tours on Operation Hurricane in north-eastern Rhodesia (today Zimbabwe).
During the Bush War, the Rhodesian Army augmented its ranks with foreign volunteers, who were accepted into regular regiments with the same pay and conditions of service as locals. Most foreign recruits enlisted in the Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI), which launched an overseas recruitment programme in 1974, but required successful applicants to speak good English. The Army attempted to alleviate the strain on its troops during late 1977 by recruiting French-speakers as well, and formed a designated company in the Rhodesia Regiment for them. The regiment already had six independent companies, so the francophone unit became 7 Independent Company.
The company's men, a mixture of former French paratroopers, ex-Foreign Legionnaires and young adventurers, had trouble from the start integrating with the Rhodesian forces, and became unsettled by the respective ranks they were given in the Rhodesian Army. In an attempt to raise their morale and create a strong esprit de corps, the Army issued them beret insignias backed with the French tricolour and allowed them to raise the flag of France alongside that of Rhodesia each morning. Apparently under the impression that they had signed up as highly paid mercenaries, many of the French troopers returned home after their first bush trip, unhappy to have received no more money than a regular Rhodesian soldier.
On operations their performance was generally below par, but the Frenchmen were involved in some successful actions during February and early March 1978. Their oppressive treatment of the black villagers they encountered made them very unpopular in the operational area. The Rhodesians quickly deemed the experiment a failure and following a series of disasters for the company during the latter part of its second tour, including two friendly fire incidents and several fatalities, it was disbanded in May 1978. Forces led by one of its members, Bob Denard, later that month executed a coup d'état in the Comoros with French, Rhodesian and South African governmental support.Ali Mroudjaé
Ali Mroudjae (born 1939) is a former Prime Minister and foreign minister of the Comoros. Mroudjae became foreign minister after the coup by Bob Denard brought Ahmed Abdallah to power in 1978. He continued in that position until 8 February 1982, when he became prime minister. He left the office of Prime Minister on 31 December 1984. He was part of the Comorian Union for Progress.Combo Ayouba
Combo Ayouba, also referred to as Ayouba Combo, (c. 1952 – June 13, 2010) was a Comoran colonel and senior member of the Military of Comoros. He was one of the highest-ranking military officers in the Comoros at the time of his assassination in 2010.Fire (magazine)
The Belgian-Francophone magazine AMI (Armes-Militaria-Informations-Tir) was first published in 1979. It published articles about firearms and militaria.
It became ArMI in 1987, then Fire in 1990. The magazine Fire, owned by the mercenaries Bob Denard and Christian Tavernier, was discontinued in 2002.
These magazines were sold at newsstands in Belgium, France and Switzerland.Haribon Chebani
Haribon Chebani was the Provisional President of the Comoros from November 26, 1989 to November 27, 1989. He had previously been the chief of the Supreme Court. Chebani succeeded Ahmed Abdallah on the same day Abdallah was assassinated, and was a member of the same political party, the Comorian Union for Progress. On the twenty-seventh, he was removed from office by French mercenary Bob Denard (who surrendered to French forces on December 15 of the same year).History of the Comoros
The history of the Comoros goes back some 1,500 years. The Comoros have been inhabited by various groups throughout this time. France colonised the islands in the 19th century, and they became independent in 1975.History of the Comoros (1978–89)
The Comoros is an island nation in the Indian Ocean, located off the eastern coast of Africa. France first established colonial rule in the Comoros in 1841. Agreement was reached with France in 1973 for the Comoros to become independent in 1978. On July 6, 1975, but the Comorian parliament passed a unilateral resolution declaring independence. The deputies of Mayotte, which remained under French control, abstained. Referendums on all four of the islands excluding Mayotte showed strong support for independence. Ahmed Abdallah proclaimed the Comoros' independence on September 5, 1975 and became its first president.
In 1978, president Ali Soilih, who had a firm anti-French attitude, was killed and Ahmed Abdallah came to power. Under the reign of Abdallah, Bob Denard was commander of the Presidential Guard (PG) and de facto ruler of the country, trained, supported and funded by the white regimes in South Africa (SA) and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in return to the permission to set up a secret listening station on the islands. South-African agents had to keep an ear on the important African National Congress bases in Lusaka and Dar es Salaam and to watch the war in Mozambique, in which SA played an active role. The Comoros was also used for evading arms sanctions.
When in 1981 François Mitterrand was elected president Denard lost the support of the French intelligence service, but he managed to strengthen the link between SA and the Comoros. Besides the Guard, Denard established his own company SOGECOM, in both the security and building business. He seemed to be pretty rich. In period 1985-87 the relationship of the PG with the local Comorians became worse.
At the end of the 1980s the South Africans did not want to continue to support a mercenary regime and France also wanted to get rid of the mercenaries. Finally, also President Abdallah wanted the mercenaries to leave. Their response was a (third) coup and the death of President Abdallah in which Denard and his men were probably involved. The SA and the French government subsequently forced Denard and his mercenaries to leave the islands in 1989.Jacques Foccart
Jacques Foccart (31 August 1913 – 19 March 1997) was a chief adviser for the government of France on African policy as well as the co-founder of the Gaullist Service d'Action Civique (SAC) in 1959 with Charles Pasqua, which specialized in covert operations in Africa.
From 1960 to 1974, he was the President of France's chief of staff for African and Madagascar matters for both Charles de Gaulle and Georges Pompidou. Foccart played such an important role in French policies in Africa that, after de Gaulle, he was seen as the most influential man of the Fifth Republic. But through SAC, he was considered to be involved in various coups d'état in Africa during the 1960s. Nevertheless, Foccart retained his functions during Georges Pompidou's presidency (1969–74)
In 1974 Valéry Giscard d'Estaing replaced Foccart with the young deputy whom he had himself trained. He was then rehabilitated in 1986 by the new Prime minister Jacques Chirac as an adviser on African affairs for the two years of "cohabitation" with socialist president François Mitterrand. When Chirac finally gained the presidency in 1995, the 81-year-old Foccart was brought back to the Elysée palace as an advisor. He died in 1997. According to The National Interest review, "Foccart was said to have been telephoning African personalities on the subject of Zaire right up to the week before his death."Mercenary
A mercenary is an individual who is hired to take part in a conflict but is not part of an army or other-governmental organisation. Mercenaries fight for money or other forms 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.Operation Azalee
Opération Azalée (French for Azalea) was the name of an expedition by the French armed forces and French special forces which took place in 1995 to remove the provisional government of the Comoros that was led and put into power by famed mercenary Bob Denard.Pierre Guillaume (French Navy officer)
Pierre Guillaume (11 August 1925 — 3 December 2002, also known as "'Commandant' Pierre Guillaume") was an officer of the French Navy. He took part in the Algiers putsch of 1961 and in the Organisation armée secrète right- wing terrorist group, which opposed what it regarded as De Gaulle's treacherous abandonment of Algeria to the FLN terrorists.
Born to a divisional General of the French Army, Pierre Guillaume graduated from the École Navale in 1948. During the First Indochina War, he was officer in an assault naval division. In 1954, he was promoted to lieutenant de vaisseau. He attempted to sail to France on a junk named Le Manohara but ran aground on the coasts of Somalia on 13 November 1956.
In late 1956, Guillaume reached Paris where he learned of the death of his brother, Jean-Marie Guillaume, a paratroop lieutenant killed in the Algerian War. He requested and was granted a transfer to the Army, and took his brother's office, from 14 July 1957 to 12 March 1958. During the Algiers putsch of 1961, he was naval counselor to general Challe. After the putsch attempt failed, he was sentenced to 4 years of imprisonment. He joined the Organisation armée secrète, was arrested in May 1962, and sentenced to 12 years of imprisonment in Tulle prison.
He later worked as a naval security consultant in Saudi Arabia and took part in operations with Bob Denard in Comoros. He also fought for the Karen in Myanmar.
He eventually took on living aboard a sailship, the Agathe, moored in Saint-Malo harbour. He worked for Radio Courtoisie almost until he died. Guillaume was a close friend of Jean-Marie Le Pen and interviewed him in several occasions for the radio.
After his death, his memoirs were published under the title Mon âme à Dieu, mon corps à la Patrie, mon honneur à moi ("My soul for God, my body for the Fatherland, my honour to myself").
Guillaume inspired the character of the "Drummer Crab" in the novel Le Crabe-tambour and the eponymous film by Pierre Schoendoerffer.Said Mohamed Djohar
Said Mohammed Djohar (Arabic: سعيد محمد جوهر 22 August 1919 – 22 February 2006) was a Comorian politician who served as the 4th President of the Comoros during the 1990s.Samantha Weinberg
Samantha Fletcher is a British Green Party politician, and under her maiden name of Samantha Weinberg, a novelist, journalist and travel writer. Educated at St Paul's Girls' School and Trinity College, Cambridge, she is the author of books such as A Fish Caught in Time: The Search for the Coelacanth and the James Bond inspired trilogy The Moneypenny Diaries under the alias Kate Westbrook. She is assistant editor of Intelligent Life, the features and cultural magazine from The Economist.