Paris: French special forces killed two key jihadist leaders in a raid in Mali, one of whom has been linked to the kidnapping and execution of foreigners, the defence ministry said Wednesday.
Amada Ag Hama, known as "Abdelkrim the Tuareg", who is believed to have masterminded the kidnapping of two French journalists who were murdered in Mali in 2013, was one of those killed in the raid in northern Mali.
He was a leader of an Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) battalion and a former lieutenant of Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, one of the AQIM leaders killed fighting the French army in northern Mali in February 2013.
Abdelkrim was among four jihadists killed in the raid, along with another key figure Ibrahim Ag Inawalen, known as "Bana".
The defence ministry said in a statement that the men were "two of the main leaders" of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Ansar Dine.
The ministry said that the operation "is a fresh blow to armed terrorist groups in the Sahel" after the French army killed Ahmed el Tilemsi, the leader of the Al-Murabitoun group in Mali who had been declared a "specially designated global terrorist" by the US State Department.
Al Qaeda-linked jihadists controlled northern Mali, a vast desert region, for more than nine months until a French-led military intervention in 2013 drove them out.
France has kept 1,000 troops in northern Mali since operation Serval ousted the Islamist rebels, as part of a wider counter-terrorism operation.
The new operation, nicknamed Barkhane, is taking place across Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad and involves a total 3,000 French troops.