Two key Islamist leaders killed in French army raid in Mali
French special forces killed two key jihadist leaders in a raid in Mali, one of whom has been linked to the kidnapping and execution of foreigners, the defence ministry said Wednesday.
Amada Ag Hama, known as “Abdelkrim the Tuareg”, who claimed the kidnapping and murder of two French journalists in Mali in 2013, was one of those killed in the raid in northern Mali.
He was a leader of an Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) battalion and a former lieutenant of Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, one of the AQIM leaders killed fighting the French army in northern Mali in February 2013.
“France has a long memory,” said Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, referring to the execution of Radio France Internationale journalists Ghislaine Dupont, 57, and Claude Verlon, 55 who were shot dead in Mali’s desert town of Kidal in November 2013.
Abdelkrim was among four jihadists killed in the raid on Monday night, along with another key figure Ibrahim Ag Inawalen, known as “Bana”.
The French defence ministry said in a statement that the men were “two of the main leaders” of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Ansar Dine.
The ministry said that the operation was “a fresh blow to armed terrorist groups in the Sahel” after the French army in December killed Ahmed el Tilemsi, the leader of the Al-Murabitoun group in Mali who had been declared a “specially designated global terrorist” by the US State Department.
Mali was shaken by a coup in 2012 which cleared the way for Tuareg separatists to seize the towns and cities of the vast northern desert.
Militants linked to Al-Qaeda then overpowered the Tuareg to take control of northern Mali for nearly 10 months, imposing a brutal interpretation of Islamic law with punitive amputations and executions.
A French-led military offensive ousted the militants but the country remains deeply divided, with the Tuareg and Arab populations of the north accusing sub-Saharan ethnic groups in the more prosperous south of marginalising them.
Northern Mali has seen an upsurge in attacks by pro-government militias and various factions of the Tuareg-led rebellion, leaving many dead on both sides.
The government and several armed groups signed a peace accord on Friday in a ceremony attended by numerous heads of state but which was missing the crucial backing of the main Tuareg-led rebel groups.
France has kept 1,000 troops in northern Mali since operation Serval ousted the Islamist rebels, as part of a wider counter-terrorism operation.
The new operation, nicknamed Barkhane, is taking place across Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad and involves a total 3,000 French troops.
An 11,000-strong UN peacekeeping force MINUSMA has also been present in Mali since July 2013 to oversee the stabilisation of the country.