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French forces kill al-Qaida's north Africa chief in Mali | World news

French forces in northern Mali have killed al-Qaida’s north Africa 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.

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.

AQIM originated from a group started in the late 1990s by radical Algerian Islamists, who in 2007 formally subscribed to Al-Qaeda’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.

France also claimed on Friday to have captured a leader of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (EIGS) group, which carries out frequent attacks over Niger’s western borders.

Operations against EIGS, “the other great terrorist threat in the region”, are continuing, said Parly.

France has over 5,000 troops deployed in its anti-jihadist Barkhane force in the Sahel region.

Mali is struggling to contain an Islamist insurgency that erupted in 2012 and which has claimed thousands of military and civilian lives since. Despite the presence of thousands of French and UN troops, the conflict has engulfed the centre of the country and spread to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.

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