Mali: French forces kill leader of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb

PARIS, June 7 (NNN-AGENCIES) — French forces have killed the leader
of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Algerian Abdelmalek Droukdel, in
northern Mali, France’s defence minister said.

Droukdel was killed on Thursday near the Algerian border, where the
group has bases from which it has carried out attacks and abductions
of Westerners in the sub-Saharan Sahel zone, Defence Minister Florence
Parly said.

“Many close associates” of Droukdel — who commanded several
affiliate jihadist groups across the lawless region — were also
“neutralised”, she added.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) emerged from a group started
in the late 1990s by radical Algerian Islamists, who in 2007 pledged
allegiance to Osama Bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network.

The group has claimed responsibility for a string of attacks on
troops and civilians across the Sahel, including a 2016 attack on an
upmarket hotel and restaurant in Burkina Faso, which killed 30 people,
mainly Westerners.

France has deployed more than 5,000 troops to combat jihadist
groups in the region — a largely lawless expanse stretching over
Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, where drugs and arms
flow through porous borders.

Northern Mali is the site of frequent clashes between rival armed
groups, as well as a haven for jihadist activity.

In 2012, key cities fell under the control of jihadist groups
linked to Al-Qaeda, who exploited an ethnic Tuareg-led rebel uprising,
leading to a French-led military intervention.

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.

The US said it had provided intelligence to help track down Droukdel.

“US Africa Command was able to assist with intelligence and…
support to fix the target,” spokesman Colonel Chris Karns said.

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.

“On May 19, French forces captured Mohamed el Mrabat, veteran
jihadist in the Sahel region and an important cadre in EIGS”, Parly
said on Twitter.

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

Mali is struggling to contain an Islamist insurgency that erupted
in 2012 and 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.

A source said that some 500 fighters had been killed
or captured by French troops in the region in recent months, among
them several leading figures including commanders and recruiters.

Droukdel’s death is a symbolic coup for the French, a military source said.

He had remained a threat in the region, capable of financing
jihadist movements, even though his leadership had been contested, the
source added.

His death, and that of other Al Qaeda figures, could leave the
group disorganised in the Sahel.

Born in 1971 in a poor neighbourhood of Algiers, Droukdel took part
in the founding in Algeria of the Salafist Group for Preaching and
Combat (GSPC).

Abdelaziz Bouteflika, elected Algerian president in 1999, managed
to convince most of the armed groups in the country to lay down their
weapons.

The GSPC, however, refused to do so and Droukdel decided to
approach Al-Qaeda. — NNN-AGENCIES