Key jihadist linked to French journalists’ murders killed in Mali
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French special forces have killed two "terrorist chiefs" in Mali, the defence ministry said Wednesday. The jihadist leaders include Abdelkrim al-Targui, who has been linked to the 2013 kidnapping and murders of two French journalists in Mali.
A French special forces operation during the night of May 17 and 18 resulted in the killing of four jihadists, including “two important terrorist chiefs,” said a French defence ministry statement released Wednesday. The statement named the two key jihadist figures as Amada Ag Hama -- also known as "Abdelkrim the Touareg" or Abdelkrim al-Targui -- and Ibrahim Ag Inawalen, alias "Bana".
A commander in al Qaeda’s North African branch, AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), Targui had claimed responsibility for the RFI journalists' murders months after the attack in a satellite phone call to Sahara Media, a Mauritanian portal frequently used by jihadists in the region.
A familiar figure in AQIM’s Malian operations, Targui was one of the few senior Tuareg commanders in a terror organisation dominated by Algerians. A member of the Ifoghas tribe, Targui hails from Kidal, the northern Malian town where the journalists were kidnapped in November 2013.
He is believed to have joined AQIM in 2010, when a wave of Tuaregs from Mali and Niger joined al Qaeda’s primarily Arab North African branch. Following the Tuareg recruitments, AQIM chief, Algerian-born Abdelmalek Droukdel, oversaw the formation of a Tuareg katiba – or brigade – called Ansar al Sunnah, also known simply as Al Ansar. Targui was named the head of the new Tuareg brigade.
Operating in the remote transition belt between the Sahara and the African savannah called the Sahel, that straddles the borders of Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad as well as southern Algeria, AQIM is divided into katibas, which often function as autonomously funded and run cells.
Targui’s katiba is believed to be linked to the kidnapping of a number of French nationals in the region, including French engineer Michel Germaneau, who was kidnapped in April 2010 in northern Niger, as well as Philippe Verdon and Serge Lazarevic, kidnapped in Hombori, Mali, in November 2011. Germaneau was executed in July 2010 following a failed French rescue attempt. The 78-year-old French engineer was killed by Targui following orders from senior AQIM commanders, Abdelhamid Abou Zeid and Djamal Okacha, according to French media reports. Abou Zeid was killed in a French military operation in the Ifoghas Mountains of northern Mali in February 2013.
Western intelligence officials believe the two RFI journalists were kidnapped in Kidal and killed during a botched jihadist operation. Targui is believed to have ordered the killings after the vehicle carrying the hostages broke down outside Kidal.
AQIM has said the killing of Dupont and Verlon was in retaliation for the ‘‘daily crimes’’ committed by French and Malian forces in northern Mali, where France launched a military operation in January 2013 to flush out Islamist militants.
UN troops attacked in Bamako
While the French Operation Serval succeeded in wresting northern Mali from jihadist control, Mali remains a deeply divided nation with a festering Tuareg separatist problem.
France has kept 1,000 troops in the region since Operation Serval ended as part of a wider counter-terrorism operation. The new operation, named Barkhane, is operating across Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad and involves a total 3,000 French troops.
An 11,000-strong UN peacekeeping force MINUSMA has also been present in Mali since July 2013 to oversee the stabilisation of the West African nation.
The announcement of Targui and three other jihadists’ killings in northern Mali came as a UN residence in the capital of Bamako was attacked on Wednesday.
The assailant sprayed the peacekeepers' Bamako residence and cars parked outside with automatic gunfire in the early hours of the morning, firing grenades before escaping, according to a MINUSMA statement. The unidentified gunman shot and wounded a civilian guard but no troops were hurt.