Malian officials say French forces have killed a top Islamist militia leader in the mountains of northern Mali.
Malian officials said Friday that Omar Ould Hamaha, a member of al-Qaida's north African wing, was killed last week by French airstrikes. France's Defense Ministry has not confirmed the death.
Hamaha was a longtime member of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and later became a spokesman for the Movement for Unity and Jihad in the Islamic Maghreb. MUJWA imposed a strict form of sharia in Mali's north when rebels occupied the region for almost 10 months in 2012.
Hamaha defended the rebels' destruction of ancient shrines sacred to Sufi Muslims in the town of Timbuktu.
Malian military officials say the U.S. government had offered $3 million dollars for information leading to Hamaha's capture.
Hamaha, known as "Red Beard" because he dyed his facial hair, was a close associate of Algerian jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who claimed responsibility for an attack on an Algerian gas plant last year.
Mali spiraled into crisis after a military coup in the capital, Bamako, in March 2012. Several militant groups used the confusion of the coup to assert control in the country's north, where they planned to establish an Islamist state.
The central government reasserted its control in northern Mali after a French-led military operation in January 2013.
The militants are no longer able to carry out major military actions, but the residual groups of these fighters stage sporadic small-scale attacks in the north.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.