France says it has killed the leader of al-Qaeda in north Africa, Abdelmalek Droukdel, in an operation in Mali.
Defence Minister Florence Parly said Droukdel along with members of his inner circle had been killed in the north of the country on Wednesday.
French forces had also captured a senior Islamic State group commander in Mali in an operation in May, she said.
The “daring operations” had dealt “severe blows to the terrorist groups”, she said.
“Our forces, in co-operation with their partners in the Sahel, will continue to hunt them relentlessly,” she said.
What is the context?
As head of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Droukdel was in charge of all affiliates in north Africa and also commanded al-Qaeda’s Sahel affiliate, Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM).
The captured Islamic State group commander, Mohamed Mrabat, was a veteran jihadist and had a senior role in the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) group, Ms Parly said. He was caught on 19 May, she added.
On 7 May IS revealed its militants had been engaged in fierce clashes with Al-Qaeda in Mali and Burkina Faso. It accused JNIM of attacking its positions, blocking fuel supplies and detaining IS supporters.
ISGS has quickly established a foothold in the Sahel countries after announcing a presence in March last year.
Who was Abdelmalik Droukdel?
Aged in his late 40s, Droukdel fought against Soviet troops in Afghanistan, and was thought to regard the former leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, as his inspiration.
Under his leadership AQIM carried out numerous deadly attacks, including a 2016 assault on a hotel in the Burkina Faso capital Ouagadougou that left 30 dead and 150 injured.
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In 2012 he was sentenced to death by a court in Algeria after being convicted in absentia of murder, membership of a terrorist organisation and attacks using explosives.
The charges related to three bomb attacks in the capital Algiers in April 2007 which killed 22 people and wounded more than 200 others.
A veteran jihadist
This veteran Algerian jihadist was one of the most notorious commanders in the north Africa-Sahara region, waging violent campaigns first in Algeria then later against French and other forces in Mali.
According to the UN Security Council, which sanctioned him in 2007, Droukdel was an explosives expert who built devices that killed hundreds of civilians in public places. As leader of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) he was instrumental in the kidnap of both local and western nationals in attacks as far apart as Tunisia, Niger and Mali.
He also helped the group expand its area of activities deep into Mali where, according to the French government, he met his end.
Jihadist groups are usually quick to announce a successor to killed or captured leaders but in north Africa there are signs of increasing tension between Al-Qaeda and its more recent rival, Islamic State and its affiliates.
What is France doing in the Sahel?
Thousands of French troops have been deployed in Mali since 2013.
France, the former colonial power, became involved after Islamist militants overran parts of the north. With French help, Mali’s army has recaptured the territory, but insecurity continues and violence has spread to neighbouring countries.
More than 5,000 French troops have been serving as part of Operation Barkhane in support of the forces of Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad.
However they face a growing insurgency by jihadist groups, which have significantly stepped up their attacks in the Sahel countries since last year.
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