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Al-Qaeda leader killed in French raid in Mali

Undated photo of al-Qaeda leader Abdelmalek Droukdel, also known as Abou Moussa Abdelouadoud
Undated photo of al-Qaeda leader Abdelmalek Droukdel, also known as Abou Moussa Abdelouadoud AFP PHOTO/HO

Abdelmalek Droukdel, a prominent Al-Qaeda leader, was killed this week in a French special forces raid in northern Mali, France’s minister for the armed forces, Florence Parly, said

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“I congratulate and thank all those who have enabled and carried out these daring operations, which have dealt a severe blow to these terrorist groups,” Parly tweeted.

"Our forces, in co-operation with their partners in the Sahel, will continue to hunt them relentlessly," she said.

Droukdel was killed on Wednesday with several of his close collaborators in northern Mali, the defense official added.

Veteran jihadist

As head of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Droukdel was in charge of the organisation's affiliates across north Africa.

Aged in his 40s, he also "commanded Al-Qaeda's Sahel affiliate, Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), one of the main terrorist groups" in the semi-arid region, below the Sahara desert, Parly added.

Droukdel is thought to be responsible for hundreds of civilian deaths, including a 2016 assault on a hotel in the Burkina Faso capital Ouagadougou.

Born on 20 April, 1970, he first began waging terror campaigns in his home country of Algeria before expanding AQIM's activities to northern Mali, which has been wracked by instability for the past decade.

A notorious commander, he also ran by the name of Abou Moussab Abd Al-Wadoud, in reference to Iraq's former Al-Qaeda leader, Abou Moussab al-Zarkaoui, and is credited with taking AQIM from an offshoot of the Algerian civil war into one of the most feared terror groups in the north-Africa Sahel region.

Death in doubt

However, the extremist group has yet to confirm his death and many analysts remain prudent.

"Jihadist groups, especially those linked to Al-Qaeda and therefore AQIM, are not used to hiding their dead," says Mauritanian journalist Lemine ould Salem.

"If this death is real, it will be confirmed in the coming days. Until it has been confirmed by the different parties, we must remain cautious," he told RFI.

Last year, another extremist leader in Mali, Amadou Koufa, appeared in a verified video mocking reports that French forces had killed him.

Rivalry

News of Droukdel's death comes at a time of increasing tensions between Al-Qaeda and its more recent rival, the Islamic State armed group.

Armed clashes have broken out between the rival organisations in recent weeks, according to sources.

At a security summit in January this year, President Emmanuel Macron said that the Islamic State had replaced Al-Qaeda as its number one enemy in the Sahel.

On Friday, French colonel Frédéric Barbry reiterated that sentiment.

"We have obtained a victory over AQIM but the main enemy is the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara," he said.

IBK under fire

The announcement on Friday came as thousands of Malians took to the streets  of the capital Bamako to call for President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta to resign.

Urged by opposition parties, demonstrators waved banners bearing slogans such as "IBK, get out", using the acronym by which the president is popularly known.

They accuse the state of mishandling the islamist insurgency, which killed 4,000 last year.

Some have also take issue with IBK's close relationship with France, which has more than 5,000 troops serving as part of its Operation Barkhane. But locals say its presence may be causing more harm than good.

Legislative elections in April have done little to appease public anger.

Seventy-five-year-old Keita has been in office since 2013.

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