Bob Denard: Bob Denard, mercenary and coup-master, died on October 13th, aged 78

The Economist

I interviewed this guy in Paris years ago for a profile I did in the Times. Also covered some of his exploits in Africa.
Copyright The Economist
THERE were usually several versions of any story involving Bob Denard. To explain how he came to be found, in the early hours of November 26th 1989, standing over the blood-soaked and pyjama-clad body of the president of the Comoros Islands, there were three alternatives. One: Mr Denard had shot him. (He denied it in court; though he had been in the same room, and very close to him, he had not pulled the trigger.) Two: the palace bodyguard had burst in wildly, filling the president with bullets. (“Inexplicable,” Mr Denard agreed, but true; “an accident arising out of a general state of madness.”) Or perhaps—mad theory three—an army commandant had fired off an anti-tank missile by mistake, which had crashed through the window of the presidential bedroom.
The French courts never worked it out, and in 1999 acquitted Mr Denard for lack of evidence. His long dark history as a mercenary in Africa, from 1961 onwards, had blurred everything about him. His name was Bob Denard, or Gilbert Bourgeaud, or Colonel Bako, or Mustafa M’hadjou. The wound that made him limp had come from a bullet in Congo, or perhaps in Algeria. His fascination with all things military sprang from a boyhood in the French resistance in the Médoc, or alternatively from his first entranced sighting of the shiny helmets, boots and guns of the German troops invading his village. He had been cashiered from the French navy, at 16, for running riot in a Saigon whorehouse or for burning down a restaurant. Fact or fiction: few knew for sure.
Mr Denard could look gentlemanly, smart in grey suits or his spurious colonel’s uniform. He thought the word “mercenary” insulting and torture “repugnant”. Visitors to his beach house in the Comoros might find him, surrounded by his children from seven different pretty women, sipping tea under a frangipani tree. Dom Perignon and paté de foie gras would be shipped out after him when his plots failed. But he was also a brawny, flamboyant soldier in camouflage fatigues, leader of “les affreux” (“the terrible ones”) in the Congo—in fact, le plus affreux des affreux, as he boasted to his men. He did a job in which killing was necessary, sometimes alongside underlings who stubbed out their cigarettes on prisoners’ feet or roughly removed their teeth and eyes.
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