Jihadist leader killed in Mali French airstrike: army

A top jihadist leader of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) group, an aide and two civilians have been killed in northeastern Mali by a French airstrike, the French command centre in Paris said on Monday.

"Commandos deployed on the ground (after the airstrike) confirmed the death of Mohamed Ag Almouner and one of his bodyguards. They also found the bodies of a woman and a teenager," an army statement said.

Another member of ISGS was wounded, along with two other civilians.

The jihadist leader who was killed at an isolated camp in the Menaka region was "a lieutenant to the ISGS chief", army spokesperson colonel Patrik Steiger told AFP.

He added that "the link between the civilians and the jihadist leader is not yet known."

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The statement expressed regret at the civilian deaths and said an investigation was under way to determine how they got caught up in the attack.

The French operation overnight on Sunday to Monday involved two Mirage 2000 aircraft, followed up by ground forces.

ISGS, based on Mali's border with Burkina Faso and also active in Niger, is just one of several jihadist groups in the country where French forces have been fighting for several years to help restore government control.

It is led by Adnan Abu Walid Sahrawi who was formerly a member of the al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) group and also co-led Mujao, a Malian Islamist group.

ISGS had claimed a series of attacks, including one in October 2017 in Niger that killed four US army special operations soldiers and four Nigerien troops.

Around 4 000 French soldiers are deployed in five Sahel countries (Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Chad) as part of the anti-terrorist Barkhane operation.

The north of Mali fell under jihadist control in 2012 until they were pushed out of the cities by France's military intervention in 2013.

But Mali, a landlocked nation home to at least 20 ethnic groups, continues to battle jihadist attacks and intercommunal violence, which often spills over to neighbouring countries.