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French military kills Al-Qaeda commander blamed for kidnapping & murder of journalists in 2013, defense minister says

On June 5, French troops taking part in the counter-terrorism ‘Operation Barkhane’ prevented an attack on a UN outpost in the village of Aguelhok in northern Mali, Parly said in a statement on Friday. Four terrorists, who were preparing to fire mortars at the Chadian peacekeepers stationed at the facility, were killed, including a man identified as Baye ag Bakabo, the minister added.

French prosecutors have named Bakabo the prime suspect in the kidnapping and murder of Radio France Internationale (RFI) journalists Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon in November 2013.

Dupont and Verlon were seized by gunmen in the northern Malian town of Kidal after an interview with a local separatist leader. The pair were driven away and shot dead shortly after the kidnapping.

According to the prosecutors, Bakabo – a drug trafficker and member of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – was the owner and driver of a pickup truck that had been abandoned in the desert not far from the spot where the bodies of the journalist were discovered.

AQIM took responsibility for the killings, saying that it was retribution to France for its incursion into West Africa.

“Today, all my thoughts are with the families and loved ones of Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon,” Parly wrote in her statement on Friday.

Just a day earlier, President Emmanuel Macron announced that France is ending Operation Barkhane in the Sahel, but will keep a reduced contingent of troops in the region as part of the broader international anti-terrorist force. He said that all the details of the drawdown will be finalized by the end of this month.

The French military was deployed under the operation in West Africa in 2014 to help the ‘5G Sahel’ nations – Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania – in their fight against jihadist militants. Al-Qaeda and other radical Islamist groups have gained a foothold in the region after a NATO bombing campaign in Libya led to the overthrow of the country’s longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Paris currently has some 5,100 troops deployed in Sahel, mostly in Mali. Since the start of Operation Barkhane, France has lost more than 50 of its soldiers in West Africa.

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