On the 5th of June, France announced a major success in its anti-terror campaign in northern Africa. French forces, working with local partners, successfully launched an operation which killed Abdelmalek Droukdel, the leader of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), as well as a number of the members of his inner circle. This news provides a much-need boost to France, whose military involvement has been criticized for perceived inefficiencies and colonial overtones.
Florence Parly, French Minister of the Armies, announced the news in a tweet on Friday: “On June 3, French army forces, with the support of their local partners, killed the emir of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Abdelmalek Droukdel, and several of his closest collaborators, during an operation in northern Mali.” Parly added that related operations in the region led to the capture of Mohamed el Mrabat, a major figure in the Greater Sahara contingent of ISIS. “Our forces, in cooperation with their local partners … will continue to track these [people] down without respite,” Parly said, reinforcing the French commitment to anti-terror initiatives in northern Africa. At the time of writing, AQIM have not confirmed Droukdel’s death.
Droukdel was a founding member of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. AQIM emerged in 2007 out of a merger of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) – a group Droukdel had led since 2004 –and al-Qaeda. Under his leadership, AQIM was responsible for a huge number of horrifying attacks in northern Africa. One of the most prominent was the 2016 attack on a hotel in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, which saw 30 people killed, and another 150 injured. However, the group is also responsible for numerous suicide bombings, kidnappings, and attacks on military forces; Droukdel himself was regarded as responsible for the introduction of suicide bombing to Algeria. In 2012, he was sentenced to death in his native Algeria after an in-absentia conviction of murder, membership of a terrorist organisation, and attacks using explosives. His death marks the passing of one of AQIM’s most senior members.
The news provides a boon to French activities in the region. For some time, concern has mounted over whether French anti-insurgency efforts are succeeding. France, the former colonial overlord for much of northern Africa, became involved in the region in 2013, after militants occupied vast swathes of Malian territory. French forces helped the Malian government recapture these areas, but has so far failed to uproot the jihadist groups themselves. Since last year, jihadist groups in the Sahel region have significantly stepped up their attacks and propaganda; Droukdel himself released a video in March calling on Sahel governments to end French military presence in the region. In attempting to stoke on-going anti-French sentiment, the various militant groups are hoping to see French involvement in the region minimized. However, the killing of Droukdel and members of his inner circle should help French forces garner support for ongoing anti-insurgency activities.
It remains to be seen what the death of Abdelmalek Droukdel will mean for AQIM. The group itself has been losing influence for some time, much like al-Qaeda itself, with groups like ISIS increasingly taking the reins of jihad. That being said, Droukdel was responsible for a huge amount of suffering in the region. His death will not bring back his countless victims, but it may provide some peace for their families. More importantly, it should prove to critics that French involvement in the region is achieving results. With ongoing co-operation between France and the Sahel nations, it is possible that stability will be restored to the region.