Paris            -       French forces have killed the leader of Al-Qaeda in the Algerian Abdelmalek Droukdel, in northern Mali, France’s defence minister said. Droukdel was killed on Thursday near the Algerian border, where the group has bases from which it has carried out attacks and abductions of Westerners in the sub-Saharan Sahel zone, Defence Minister Florence Parly said Friday. “Many close associates” of Droukdel -- who commanded several affiliate militants groups across the lawless region -- were also “neutralised”, she added. France has deployed more than 5,000 troops to combat militants groups in the region -- a largely lawless expanse stretching over Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, where drugs and arms flow through porous borders. Northern Mali is the site of frequent clashes between rival armed groups, as well as a haven for militant activity. According to the UN, Droukdel was an explosives expert and manufactured devices that killed hundreds of civilians in attacks on public places. He was sentenced to death in Algeria in 2013 for his involvement in the bombings of a government building and offices of the UN’s refugee committee in Algiers that killed 26 people and wounded 177.