France announced it killed Abdelmalek Droukdel, al Qaeda’s top leader in the region of North Africa, in a major victory against the terrorist organization.
Droukdel was killed in Mali along with other members of his inner circle on Wednesday. He had led al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and its operations in the region and was previously part of AQIM’s precursor organization, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat.
Droukdel’s death was confirmed to the Washington Examiner by Col. Christopher Karns of U.S. Africa Command, who said the U.S. confirmation was independent of French reporting. Karns also said that the United States was able to help French forces with intelligence and surveillance support.
“This is significant and reflects the commitment and tremendous support being provided by the French in West Africa. In Africa, it is truly an international effort, and this operation demonstrates this fact. This mission is a collective win,” Karns said.
French Defense Minister Florence Parly said that French operations also resulted in the capture of Mohamed Mrabat, a senior member of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara. Mrabat was captured on May 19, she said. Parly hailed the “daring operations” and emphasized the major impact that the deaths and capture will have on Islamist extremism in the North Africa region.
“Our forces, in co-operation with their partners in the Sahel, will continue to hunt them relentlessly,” she said.
Droukdel, believed to be about 50 years old, was a veteran jihadist who left his native Algeria in the 1990s to fight in the Afghan Civil War and was also a follower of Abu Musab al Zarqawi. Zarqawi, who was killed by U.S. forces in 2006, is notorious for being the first “emir” of al Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni terrorist group that was a precursor to ISIS.
AQIM carried out a number of devastating terrorist attacks under the guidance of Droukdel, who is known to be an explosives expert. In 2016, AQIM bombed a luxury hotel in Burkina Faso that killed some 30 people and injured scores more. Hundreds more have been killed by the group in attacks over the years.
Droukdel’s death comes after a number of prominent figures tied to al Qaeda have recently been killed. Reports first emerged in late July that Hamza bin Laden, the son of al Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden, was dead. The U.S. confirmed in September that he was killed during a counterterrorism operation. In October, it was announced that Ibrahim al Asiri, al Qaeda’s chief bomb-maker, was killed by U.S. forces two years prior.
In February, the terrorist network was dealt a major blow when Qassim al Rimi was killed during a counterterrorism operation in Yemen. Al Rimi, who had a $10 million bounty on his head, led al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, believed to be the most active of the group’s geographical bases.
According to Karns, Droukdel’s death was extremely significant to operations in the North Africa region. He hailed the killing as a major victory for forces battling against al Qaeda and ISIS affiliates.
“Removal of this key leader is a significant step in degrading al Qaeda and reflects the persistent pressure being placed on terror groups in Africa and by France and our African partners. This definitely is a blow to AQIM and certainly degrades their ability to plan and carry out operations,” Karns said.
The Washington Examiner reached out to the State Department and the CIA for comment on this report.
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