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France Says Extremist Leader May Have Been Killed in Mali

FILE - French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly makes an official statement in the press room at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, April 14, 2018.

A leader of an al-Qaida-linked extremist group in central Mali may have been among the 30 militants killed by French soldiers in an overnight attack, France's ministry of armed forces said Friday.

Minister Florence Parly said in a tweet that Hamadoun Kouffa might have been killed in the operation, which started Thursday in the Mopti region and included airstrikes, helicopter assaults and French soldiers on the ground.

Kouffa, a radical cleric, is head of the Katibat Macina, which is part of a larger group of al-Qaida-linked militants known by the acronym JNIM.

"At this stage of the evaluation of the operation, it appears that about 30 terrorists were put out of action," the army said in its statement. Kouffa, as well as other top militants, were likely among the dead, the statement said.

France has more than 3,000 troops conducting a counterterrorism effort called Operation Barkhane against Islamist militants in the Sahel region, which includes Mali.