French troops kill senior al-Qaeda-linked fighter in Mali: army
French soldiers have killed a commander from a militant group close to Al-Qaeda that operates along Mali's troubled border with Burkina Faso, the army's general staff announced Thursday.
Nasser Al Tergui was the number two in the Gourma-Serma brigade of the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin), the French statement said.
Al Tergui, who joined Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in 2012, had "major operational responsibilities" in the support group.
"He was notably specialised in planting improvised explosive devices", according to the statement.
His death "will reduce the capacity to cause harm of an armed terrorist group known for carrying out attacks against local forces and numerous acts of violence against the local population," it added.
A drone spotted a vehicle believed to be carrying Al Tergui and five other members of the brigade about 100 kilometres (60 miles) northwest of Gossi on October 15.
The following day an operation was launched to intercept the vehicle, which refused to stop.
"Two air strikes were unleashed, the vehicle destroyed and the five occupants neutralised," the army said.
The strike comes after Mali's interim government this week entrusted its religious affairs ministry with talking to jihadist groups, a policy fiercely opposed by former colonial power France.
Relations between Bamako and Paris are at their lowest point in years, amid French frustration over a serious of military coups in the west African nation of 19 million people.
Deployed to Mali since 2013 to combat deadly jihadist activity, a force of some 5,000 French troops is now being drawn down, potentially by as much as half by early next year.