Major jihadist leader killed in Mali, French army says
Issued on: Modified:
A high-ranking member of the jihadist group al Murabitoun was killed in an overnight operation conducted by French forces in northern Mali, the army said Thursday.
"Last night ... French forces conducted an operation in the Gao region in coordination with Malian authorities," army spokesman Gilles Jaron said.
Jaron said that Ahmed el Tilemsi – who headed the group's Mali division and was wanted by the United States – had been killed in the raid.
"We've really hit al Murabitoun hard," said Jaron.
Tilemsi had a long history with jihadist groups operating in the Sahel region, having been a member of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) before becoming one of the founding members of the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), a splinter group aimed at spreading jihad throughout the region.
MUJAO was one of a number of Islamist groups that occupied northern Mali last year – imposing a brutal interpretation of Islamic sharia law characterised by amputations, beatings, executions and abductions – before being ousted by a French-led military intervention.
In August 2013, MUJAO merged with a group run by notorious Algerian jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar to form al Murabitoun, which loosely translates as "the guardians" and claimed to seek revenge on France for its actions in Mali. Belmokhtar is thought to have been the mastermind behind a January 2013 raid on an Algerian gas plant that left more than 80 people dead.
Tilemsi "was a very valuable target. We had been tracking him for several days", a government source told AFP.
The source said Tilemsi was one of the masterminds of the kidnapping of Gilberto Rodrigues Leal, who MUJAO claimed to have killed last April.
According to the US State Department, Tilemsi also played a role in the kidnapping of two French nationals in Niamey in January 2011 while still a member of AQIM. The hostages were later found dead after a failed rescue attempt by the French military.
Tilemsi also took part in the October 2011 kidnapping of three aid workers in Algeria, which left two wounded by gunfire, the State Department said.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)