France says top al-Qaida leader in Mali killed

France said Friday its forces had killed a senior al-Qaida commander during an operation in northeastern Mali.

Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said that a French military strike claimed the life of Bah ag Moussa, a leader of the militant group’s North Africa wing.

“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, who was on the US terrorism list, was killed on Tuesday after an operation involving ground troops and helicopters.

His death comes after a series of operations that have seen French forces kill dozens of Islamist fighters in recent weeks.

Read more: French airstrikes kill over 50 people in Mali

“This is a major success in the fight against terrorism,” Parly said.

Why are French forces in Mali?

Former colonial power France has more than 5,100 personnel spread across the region with a large portion in Mali operating against rising militancy.

It first launched a military operation to drive back the Islamists in 2013.

But fighting has spread to central Mali, and to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger, leaving thousands dead and hundreds of thousands forced to flee their homes.

Mali’s military coup

Vast swathes of Mali lie outside effective government control. Frustration over the seemingly endless conflict contributed to mass protests that led to the military ousting president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (below) on August 18.

Mali’s new interim government, which was appointed to rule for 18 months before staging elections, appears willing to engage in dialogue.

Last month, it secured the release of four hostages held by Islamist groups — including 75-year-old Sophie Petronin, the last remaining French hostage in the world — in exchange for about 200 prisoners, some of whom are thought to have been jihadists.

*story by DW