French troops have killed a top commander of an al-Qaeda-linked armed group in Mali this week, French Defence Minister Florence Parly announced on Twitter.
The target of the attack was identified as Bah Ag Moussa, the military head of the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM), and was believed to be behind multiple attacks on both Malian and international forces.
Parly said he was killed on Tuesday in an operation with ground troops and helicopters in eastern Mali, near Menaka.
“A historic figure of the jihadist movement in the Sahel, Bah ag Moussa is considered responsible for several attacks against Malian and international forces,” Parly said in a statement.
Moussa, also known as Bamoussa Diarra, was a former Malian army colonel and figured on the US terrorism list.
He was considered to be a right-hand man of Iyad Ag Ghali, the leader of Mali’s most prominent armed group, Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM).
The group has repeatedly attacked soldiers and civilians in Mali and neighbouring Burkina Faso.
France has deployed about 5,100 soldiers to the Sahel region, which runs through Mali, to fight armed groups, some allied with al-Qaeda, the others with the ISIL (ISIS).
Moussa’s killing came after a series of operations that have seen French forces kill dozens o armed fighters in recent weeks.
“This is a major success in the fight against terrorism,” Parly said.
Mali has been plagued by an eight-year conflict that began as a separatist movement in the north but soon devolved into a multitude of armed groups jockeying for control in the country’s central region.
The insecurity has spilled into neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger, with groups exploiting the poverty of marginalised communities and inflaming tensions between ethnic groups.
Several missions, including France’s 5,000-strong Operation Barkhane and UN peacekeeping force, have failed to help authorities to regain their foothold in the restive region.