French forces kill top al-Qaida leader in Africa
|Toronto Star 06 Jun 2020 at 13:45|
The French military said Friday that its forces in Mali had killed one of al-Qaida’s longest-serving commanders in Africa, Abdelmalek Droukdel, who has led an affiliate of the terror network for more than a decade.
The killing of Droukdel, later confirmed by the U.S. Africa Command, is a setback for al-Qaida’s operations in northwestern Africa.
“A very big loss for them,” said Wassim Nasr, a French expert on the terrorist group.
In a statement on Twitter, Defence Minister Florence Parly of France wrote: “On June 3, the French armed forces, with the support of their partners, neutralized the emir of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Abdelmalek Droukdel and several of his close associates, in the course of an operation in northern Mali.”
Col. Christopher Karns of U.S. Africa Command said the United States had provided the French with intelligence and surveillance aircraft to help with the mission.
Droukdel, 50, was born in Algeria and fought the Soviets in Afghanistan before returning to his home country in the 1990s to take part in its civil war. A university mathematics graduate and an Islamist, Droukdel rose through the ranks of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, a local insurgent group that did little more than carry out gunfights with Algerian soldiers.
By the time he became the group’s commander in 2004, it was all but washed up. Droukdel then sent a secret message to Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, al-Qaida’s leader in Iraq.
What followed has been described as the terrorist version of a corporate merger.
Droukdel’s men pledged allegiance to the Qaida terrorist brand in 2006 and became the network’s most loyal partner in Africa. Instead of skirmishes with Algerian troops, the group began carrying out suicide bombings, hitting targets that made clear their ambitions were no longer local. They included the headquarters of the United Nations in Algiers, which the group destroyed in 2007, killing dozens of people.
Soon, Droukdel’s battalions were operating in Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Tunisia and Libya.
The group financed itself by kidnapping foreigners and extracting ransoms from their governments.
Flush with cash in 2012, Droukdel’s foot soldiers, alongside two other rebel groups, invaded northern Mali and succeeded in seizing the country’s northern half.