What next for North Africa following Al Qaeda chief killing?

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - The leader of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb was killed this week by French forces in Mali.

Although Abdelmalek Droukdel had a low public profile, he was one of the most powerful warlords in the region and his death is likely to have an impact on militant groups there.

Here is a round-up of views on Thursday's incident and how it might affect the volatile region.

Droukdel and other AQIM leaders met in a river valley in northern Mali late on June 3, according to a local source.

The remote desert valley, some 20 kilometres from the Algerian border, is often used as a watering hole for animals.

French forces moved quickly, first with an air strike that hit a vehicle, then with half a dozen helicopters and ground troops.

Droukdel was killed in the fighting along with AQIM's propagandist Toufik Chaib.

One jihadist surrendered and was taken into custody, said French Colonel Frederic Barbry.

The lawless area where the raid took place is a crossroads for truckers, who are sometimes forced to wait for weeks before being allowed to cross the border.

The area is also a "hotspot for migrant trafficking", a UN expert in Mali told AFP.

The semi-desert Sahel region has been plagued since militants seized control of Mali's north in 2012.

The conflict has since spread to the centre of the country, and to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger. Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed to date.

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The killing might disrupt the militants but it will not resolve the conflict, according to Denis Tull, a West Africa expert with the French government's Institute for Strategic Research.

"It's all very well to neutralise certain leaders," he said, "but we've seen in other fields that beheading leaders is never enough".

Droukdel was not the region's only powerful militant.

The leaders of an alliance linked to Al Qaeda, the Group to Support Islam and Muslims, are still at large.

Among them are Mali's two most notorious militants – in the north, veteran Tuareg militant Iyad Ag Ghaly, in central areas, radical Fulani preacher Amadou Koufa.

GSIM has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks on Malian soldiers since 2017.

ISIS also has a franchise in the region, set up in 2015 by Abou Walid Al-Sahraoui, a former AQIM member.

The groups led by Koufa and Al Sahraoui have been highly active recently, according to Ibrahim Maiga of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).

"The insurgent position will be maintained by these groups, even if Droukdel's death shows them that no one is safe," he said.

Disposing of Droukdel will not solve the region's wider problems, said a French counterterrorism expert who requested anonymity.

A variety of difficulties contribute to the region's instability and insecurity, experts argue.

Violence is the main problem – some 30 villagers were killed in central Mali on Friday alone.

But national governments are also plagued by political problems. Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters took to the streets in Mali's capital Bamako on Friday.

Complaints of government mismanagement and mistreatment of civilians by national armies are also common in the region.

"All this risks perhaps overshadowing this death," said the ISS's Ibrahim Maiga.

Updated: June 7, 2020 08:46 AM

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