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Mali: Algerian AQIM leader killed by French army

Africanews | The French army murdered a top Algerian member of the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) terrorist cell in northern Mali at the end of February, where he was the "finance and logistical coordinator," according to the army, which is withdrawing French personnel from the nation at the same time.

"On the night of February 25-26, the (French anti-jihadist) Barkhane force conducted an operation targeting a senior AQIM official about 100 kilometers north of Timbuktu in Mali, which resulted in the neutralization of Algerian jihadist Yahia Djouadi, alias Abou Ammar al Jazairi," according to a statement.

"He was neutralized by a ground operation, supported by a Tiger reconnaissance and attack helicopter and two French drones," according to the statement. "He was located and identified in an area known to be a refuge for groups belonging to AQIM and the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (GSIM), affiliated to the al-Qaeda nebula."

"Its neutralization is a new and significant tactical success for the Barkhane force, which remains committed to fighting armed terrorist groups with its Sahelian, European, and North American allies," the staff said, despite the ongoing withdrawal of the 2,400 French troops stationed in Mali out of a total of 4,600 in the Sahel.

The Barkhane operation, according to the French Foreign Minister, "must be altered."

The removal of a "historical actor in the spread of al-Qaeda and jihadist terrorism in West Africa" also "weakens once again Qaeda governance and deprives the GSIM commanded by Iyad ag Ghali of a vital relay in northern Mali, particularly in the Timbuktu area," according to the French forces.

Yahia Djouadi, a military adviser to the historic AQIM emir Abdelmalek Droukdal, who was neutralized by the French army in June 2020, joined the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA) in 1994 and afterward the Islamist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC).

He was named emir of AQIM's southern region in 2007, and then of AQIM in Libya in 2015. In 2019, he moved to Mali and "settled in the Timbuktu area, where he supported the structuring and coordinated the supply of materials to the high command of the GSIM and AQIM, as well as acting as financial and logistical coordinator for the group," according to the statement.

The move comes after France and its European allies announced their military pullout from Mali, citing "many blockages" by the Malian junta, which seized power in two coups in 2020 and 2021. Many reinforcements have come in Mali in recent months, posing as Russian instructors to the Malian government and mercenaries to the West.

France, which has deployed troops in Mali since 2013, has given itself six months to withdraw its personnel while continuing its hunt for the country's top Islamist leaders. In a deteriorating security situation, the disengagement of its personnel, the equipment deployed, including hundreds of armored vehicles, and the deconstruction of outposts pose a massive logistical burden.

Colonel Pascal Ianni, a spokesperson for the French general command, stated on Monday that the pullout is "doing smoothly," adding that "150 containers departed the Malian theatre last week." However, Paris and its allies have stated that they intend to "stay committed to the Sahel region" and "expand their support to neighboring countries in the Gulf of Guinea and West Africa," where local al-Qaeda and Islamic State (EI) franchises are threatening to spread.

Despite tactical wins in Mali, the country's terrain has never been fully recaptured. And the violence that began in the north in 2012 has extended to the center, then to Burkina Faso and Niger, killing thousands of civilians and troops while displacing hundreds of thousands.

An official estimate says 27 people were killed in a jihadist attack on a Malian army barracks in the country's center on Friday, but various French military sources say the figure is at least double that.

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