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BREAKING NEWS

Malian jihadist leader alive after French strike said to have killed him

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BAMAKO (Reuters) - A senior jihadist leader in Mali whom France said it had killed last November survived the attack and appears in a new propaganda video mocking French and Malian forces, the SITE Intelligence Group said on Friday.

French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly told parliament a few days after the Nov. 22 raid that Amadou Koufa, a radical preacher and senior leader of a militant group linked to al Qaeda, was one of 35 fighters who had been "neutralised".

Mali's army also said Koufa had been killed, in what was seen as a blow to Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), Mali's strongest Islamist militant group.

But Koufa, sporting a white turban and dyed red beard, appears in a video published by Mauritanian media and circulated on social media this week, in which he mocks the claims that he has been killed.

He tells an interviewer that the announcement of his survival was delayed "to observe political reactions ... to design the best plans to deal with them in the media, politically and on the ground", according to U.S.-based SITE, which monitors jihadist websites and confirmed the video's authenticity.

A spokesman for France's army chief of staff said authorities were in the process of authenticating the video. A Malian army spokesman declined to comment.

Parly said last week that French forces had killed Yahia Abou Hamman, JNIM's number two, in a raid on Feb. 21.

Violence by jihadist groups has proliferated in the scrublands of the West African Sahel in recent years, with groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State using central and northern Mali as a launchpad for attacks across the largely desert region.

French forces intervened in Mali, a former French colony, in 2013 to push back a jihadist advance but the militants have since regrouped. Some 4,500 French troops remain based in the wider Sahel, most of them in Mali.

(Reporting by Cheick Diouara; Additional reporting By Elizabeth Pineau in Paris; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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