French forces in northern Mali have killed al-Qaida’s north Africa (AQMI) chief, a key Islamist fighter whom its forces had been hunting for more than seven years.
“On 3 June, French army forces with the support of their local partners, killed al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s emir, Abdelmalek Droukdel, and several of his closest collaborators, during an operation in northern Mali,” the French armed forces minister, Florence Parly, wrote on Twitter on Friday.
She also confirmed that a senior Islamic State (IS) group commander, Mohamed el Mrabat was also captured in an operation back in May
Droukdel was among north Africa’s most experienced militants and took part in the Islamist militant takeover of northern Mali before a French military intervention in 2013 drove them back and scattered fighters across the Sahel region.
Droukdel was believed to be hiding in the mountains of northern Algeria. The group operates across northern Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Algeria, and have made millions of dollars abducting foreigners for ransom over the years
AQIM originated from a group started in the late 1990s by radical Algerian Islamists, who in 2007 formally subscribed to Al-Qaida’s ideology. The group, formerly known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, has bases in northern Mali from which it regularly carries out attacks and abductions of westerners in the sub-Saharan Sahel zone.
According to the UN, Droukdel was an explosives expert and manufactured devices that killed hundreds of civilians in attacks on public places. He was sentenced to death in Algeria in 2013 for his involvement in the bombings of a government building and offices of the UN’s refugee committee in Algiers that killed 26 people and wounded 177.
Droukdel´s reported death comes after French President Emmanuel Macron and the leaders of the G5 Sahel group – Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad -launched a new plan in January to fight jihadists in the area.
France deployed 600 additional soldiers as part of its Operation Barkhane – an ongoing anti-insurgent operation launched in August 2014 and led by the French.
The latest addition of troops raises the number of troops there to 5,100.
France, who were the former colonial power in the area, moved troops in after terrorist groups overran the northern area of Mali – which was eventually recaptured by the country’s army, though tensions are still rife in the area and around the borders with neighbouring countries.