The French army says it has killed one of the leaders of al-Qaida in Mali. The news comes as French forces are preparing to withdraw from the country.
The French army said in a press release Monday that Algerian Yahia Djouadi, one of the leaders of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, was killed during the night of February 25-26.
The press release says he was “neutralized” during a ground operation supported by a helicopter and two drones, north of Timbuktu, Mali.
Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb has claimed responsibility for several attacks in the Sahel region, including the 2015 terrorist attack on a Bamako hotel and a 2016 attack on a hotel in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, and has taken several Western hostages.
Mali’s military government, which seized power in a coup ten months ago, asked France last month to withdraw its troops from Malian territory immediately, following an announcement from French President Emmanuel Macron that the troops would be pulled out over a period of four to six months.
The French military first intervened in Mali in 2013 in an operation to take back control of northern Mali from Islamist militants in Operation Serval. The Operation was replaced by Operation Barkhane in 2014.
But the ongoing insurgency has continued and violence has moved from the north into the center of the country. On Monday morning, two U.N. peacekeepers were killed when their convoy ran over an improvised explosive device in Mali’s central Mopti region.
The French press release Monday said that even though Operation Barkhane is being moved off Malian territory, operations against “armed terrorist groups” continue.