France kills extremist suspected in murder of two French journalists

Baye ag Bakabo thought to have been plotting attack on UN forces in northern Mali

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The French military has killed an extremist linked to Al Qaeda believed to have been behind the murder of two French journalists in Mali.

Three other extremists were also killed in a weekend antiterrorist operation around Aguelhok in northern Mali, said French Defence Minister Florence Parly.

The operation was carried out against a group suspected of plotting an attack on UN forces in the area.

French authorities identified one of the deceased as Baye ag Bakabo, who is suspected of masterminding the kidnapping and killing of Radio France Internationale's Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon in November 2013.

The killings prompted new efforts to protect journalists in conflict zones.

Radio France Internationale reported Friday that Baye ag Bakabo had driven the beige pick-up truck used for the kidnapping, and that in recent months, he had headed an armed group that aimed to eliminate “all people suspected of collaborating” with French forces operating in the Sahel.

The broadcaster expressed its regret that he had been killed instead of captured, saying “his testimony could have removed zones of doubt that continue to cast a shadow on this case".

Only one member of the unit behind the kidnapping remains alive, the broadcaster said.

The announcement of the extremist's death came the day after French President Emmanuel Macron – currently in Cornwall for the G7 summit – announced a scaling back of French forces in the Sahel and a "profound transformation" of France's military operation in Mali and neighbouring countries so that it relies more on regional partners.