The French government on Monday said that more than 50 terrorists linked to the al-Qaeda group were killed in central Mali during an operation launched by its anti-jihadist force in the region last week.
"I would like to reveal an operation of great importance which was carried out on October 30 in Mali by the Barkhane force, which was able to neutralize more than 50 jihadists and confiscated arms and material," said French Defense Minister Florence Parly.
"Four terrorists have been captured," French military spokesman Colonel Frederic Barbry said.
Explosives and a suicide vest had been found, he told reporters, adding that the group was "about to attack (an army) position in the region."
The French operation took place in an area near the borders of Burkina Faso and Niger where government troops are fighting an Islamic insurgency, Parly said after a meeting with members of Mali's transitional government in the capital city of Bamako.
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The offensive was launched after a drone detected a "very large" motorcycle caravan in the "three borders" area, she said.
As the insurgents took cover under trees to escape surveillance, the French forces sent in two Mirage fighter jets and a drone to launch missiles, "neutralizing" the terrorists, Parly said, adding that around 30 motorcycles were destroyed.
Parly said the military action was a significant blow to a local terror group that has ties to al-Qaida via the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM), a regional jihadist alliance.
The defense minister arrived in Bamako after meeting with Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou and her Nigerien counterpart Issoufou Katambe.
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Her visit to Mali comes after its interim government secured the release of four captives held by Islamist groups, in exchange for about 200 prisoners — some believed to terrorists.
One of the freed captives was 75-year-old Sophie Petronin, the last remaining French hostage in the world.
France has deployed more than 5,000 troops in the Sahel region to combat insurgents.
adi/aw (AFP, Reuters)