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Bamako: French armed forces have killed a top jihadist leader in an air and ground ambush in Mali, the government said on Friday, ending a years-long hunt for a man accused of masterminding the kidnapping of Westerners in the Sahel region.
Djamel Okacha, an Algerian commander in Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), was killed on Thursday after French commandos, helicopters and a drone hit a column of vehicles he was travelling in north of Timbuktu, French officials said.
Okacha, a jihadist veteran known also as Yahya Abou El Hamame, was “the mastermind and financier of several attacks,” the defence ministry said.
US officials had accused him of kidnapping a number of Westerners in North and West Africa. French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe arrived late Friday in the capital, Bamako, along with Defence Minister Florence Parly, on a visit to show “support” for Mali, where some 4,500 French troops have been deployed since 2014 to retake the north of the country after it fell to jihadist fighters.
Earlier Parly had described the killing of the jihadist commander as a “spectacular action”, saying it followed a manhunt which lasted several years. His death “deals a very hard blow to terrorist groups in the Sahel,” she said.
“When commandos approached, (jihadist) pickups opened fire, prompting the helicopters to return fire,” a spokesman for the French military command said. A total of 11 “terrorists”, including El Hamame, were killed, he said. (AFP)