The Troubled Life of the Man Behind the Mask

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Last January, the widely-published chilling photo of a French foreign legionary on a mission in Mali that was taken on the spur of the moment sent shock waves around the world for its apparent depiction of life imitating online gaming culture.

The soldier in question was given a dishonourable discharge from the French army in August, but not for having himself photographed wearing a death’s head scarf.

The 36-year-old former soldier was recently sentenced to three years in prison by a court in the South of France for having held up a pharmacy in the town of Orange with a Kalashnikov rifle.

According to a member of staff of the French army, the troubled soldier was sanctioned at the time for wearing the scarf, but he was maintained on duty in Mali to finish his role in Operation Serval before arriving back in France in mid-February with his company. Once in France, “it was he who deserted”, Colonel Bruno Louisfert confirmed to AFP. After 20 days of absence without leave, the soldier re-joined his unit of his own accord, but then deserted for a second time in mid-June, since when the French army have not heard from him.

In cases of army desertion in France, it is the Gendarmes who are responsible for bringing him in. If they cannot locate him after a few weeks, he is automatically discharged of duty.

“From what we can gather, we can see that there was a clear line of cause and effect between the incident in Mali and what happened afterwards,” says Col Louisfert. According to him, the original sanctions were more of an administrative nature.

Since then, however, the ex-legionary of the Orange Foreign Cavalry Regiment had suffered from depression and had become a victim of “alcoholism and excessive medication”. When he came back from Mali, he underwent routine tests to ascertain if there were any post-traumatic symptoms, but “there weren’t any particular worrying signs.”

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