News / Africa

French Soldier Killed in Mali Fighting

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France says one of its soldiers has been killed in fighting in northern Mali.

French military officials say in a statement Sunday that the soldier, a parachutist, was killed Saturday night in an assault on militants in the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains in northern Mali.

He is the third French soldier to die since France began its intervention to dislodge the al-Qaida-linked militants on January 11.

France says at least 15 Islamist rebels were killed or wounded in the fighting Saturday that led to the soldier's death.

The clashes came as Chad announced that its troops in northern Mali killed Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the al-Qaida-linked militant who claimed responsibility for the deadly siege at an Algerian natural gas plant earlier this year.

An army statement read on national television said the one-eyed Belmokhtar was killed Saturday when Chadian soldiers overran a militant base in the mountains of northern Mali near the Algerian border. The killing has not been independently verified.

The report of Belmokhtar's death came 24 hours after Chad's president said Chadian forces had killed another notorious al-Qaida commander, Abdelhamid Abou Zeid -- the top commander of the terrorist group's North African branch, known as al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb or AQIM.

Algerian and French news reports say authorities are attempting to match DNA samples from Abou Zeid's relatives with remains found in northern Mali after a French-led military offensive early this week.

If the deaths are confirmed, the French-led force fighting in northern Mali will have eliminated the region's two top al-Qaida leaders within a week.

Belmokhtar, a veteran al-Qaida lieutenant who fought in Afghanistan, is reported to have broken away from AQIM in December to form a splinter group.

Weeks later, after former colonial power France sent military forces into Mali to help repel an al-Qaida offensive, Belmokhtar claimed responsibility for an attack on the internationally-operated In Amenas gas plant in southern Algeria.

Nearly 40 workers died in the attack, which ended when Algerian troops stormed the facility.

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