France says its special forces in Mali have killed an al-Qaida commander who had been released from prison in a swap for a French hostage.
The army on Tuesday (local time) said Ali Ag Wadossene, one of the "operational leaders" of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), died on Sunday in the northeastern town of Kidal, while two other "terrorists" were captured.
The operation "has dealt another heavy blow to armed terrorist groups in the Sahel", the army said, adding that it had destabilised AQIM's chain of command in that part of the lawless, arid region.
The raid, by France's Operation Barkhane counter-terrorism mission, came days after six peacekeepers from Burkina Faso were killed in an attack claimed by AQIM, one of the deadliest ever against the UN force in Mali.
Two special forces soldiers were wounded in Sunday's operation in the troubled west African nation's desert, where France has had troops since it launched an operation in 2013 to oust Islamists who had seized northern Mali.
While never confirmed by France, Mali admitted in December that four prisoners including Ag Wadossene were released in exchange for the freedom of Frenchman Serge Lazarevic, who spent three years in the hands of Islamist militants.
Ag Wadossene was one of the instigators of the 2011 kidnapping of Lazarevic and fellow Frenchman Philippe Verdon, who was found shot dead in 2013.
Lazarevic was the last of more than a dozen French citizens taken captive in recent years, with those held in Africa reaching a high of 15 last year.
Ag Wadossene's death marked the second operation in Mali by French special forces in recent months against key jihadist figures linked to al-Qaida.
Amada Ag Hama, known as "Abdelkrim the Tuareg", who claimed the kidnapping and murder of French journalists Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon in Mali in 2013, was one of two commanders killed in a raid in northern Mali in May.