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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

French Mercenary Denard Dead at 78

BORDEAUX, France -- Bob Denard, the French soldier whose near mythical involvement in African wars since the 1960s made him one of the world's most famous mercenaries, has died. He had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease and was 78 years old.

"I confirm that he has died," said Georgette Garnier, Denard's sister. She declined to say when or where he died but he had recently been living in the village where he was born in southwestern France.

Denard, who claimed he had covert support from France, keen to maintain its influence in its former African colonies, called himself the "pirate of the Republic" for a career which began in Congo and ended in the Comoros islands in the Indian Ocean.

Senior Comoros military commander Abdallah Gamil said Denard had been admitted to a hospital in Paris late Saturday. "About 40 minutes later, one of Bob's close friends told me he had died," he said.

Denard was sentenced by a Paris court in July for his part in a 1995 coup in Comoros.

He and others were charged with overthrowing Comoros President Mohammed Djohar in September 1995, when they put opposition leaders Mohammed Taki and Said-Ali Kemal in power.

The court sentenced Denard to four years in jail but ordered three of them suspended. A separate sentencing judge was supposed to decide whether the ailing Denard would serve time behind bars.

The mercenaries said they had acted with the knowledge and implicit support of the French government in the Comoros, a former French colony.

Many Comorians were bitter that Denard did not face justice on the Indian Ocean archipelago where his involvement in four coups and coup attempts since the islands became independent from France in 1975.

"I regret he was not made to answer to all the crimes he committed in our country, the murders and the torture which he was guilty of," said Moustoifa Said Cheikh, leader of the Democratic Front party.

Denard was one of several European mercenaries to play a major role in a series of wars during the 1960s and 1970s that accompanied the decolonization of Africa.

His ruthless efficiency when faced with poorly equipped and poorly trained African troops made him a legendary figure as he led a band of former European soldiers who became known as les affreux, or the frightful ones.

He fought in the commando team that in 1964 rescued white civilians encircled by rebels in Stanleyville in what was then the Belgian Congo, a raid which formed the basis of the film "The Wild Geese."

Later he drifted on to other wars in North Yemen, Biafra and Angola.

Denard served in France's marines and the French colonial police in Morocco before embarking on a career as a mercenary.

"This man sullied our history," said Abdou Soule Elbak, former president of Grande Comore.