French forces have killed Bah ag Moussa, a military leader of al-Qaeda’s North Africa wing, during an operation in northeastern Mali, Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said on Friday.
The former Malian army colonel, also known as Bamoussa Diarra, was a right-hand man of Iyad Ag Ghali, the leader of Mali’s most prominent jihadi group, Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM).
The jihadist outfit has repeatedly attacked soldiers and civilians in Mali and neighboring Burkina Faso.
“A historic figure of the jihadist movement in the Sahel, Bah ag Moussa is considered responsible for several attacks against Malian and international forces,” Parly said in a statement.
Moussa, who was on the US terrorism list, was killed on Tuesday after an operation involving ground troops and helicopters and comes after a series of operations that have seen French forces kill dozens of Islamist fighters in recent weeks.
“This is a major success in the fight against terrorism,” Parly said.
Moussa was believed to be responsible for multiple attacks on Malian and international forces in the country, French military spokesman Col. Frederic Barbry told reporters on Friday.
Surveillance drones helped French forces in Mali identify Moussa’s truck in the Menaka region of eastern Mali, which was then targeted by the helicopters and 15 French commandos sent to the scene, Barbry said. All five people in the truck were killed after they ignored warning shots and fired on the French forces, he said.
Barbry described it as an act of “legitimate defense” and said the bodies were handled “in conformity with international humanitarian law.” He would not comment on whether allied forces including the US contributed intelligence to the operation.