May 20, 12:33 PM EDT

French say their special forces kill 2 top Islamic extremist chiefs in northern Mali battle

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PARIS (AP) -- The French Defense Ministry says special forces in Mali have killed the leaders of two Islamist extremist groups in fighting in northern Mali.

A defense ministry statement on Wednesday said that Amada Ag Hama and Ibrahim Ag Inawalen died in fighting this week. The two were described as the main chiefs of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and Ansar Dine, groups responsible for numerous attacks on international forces.

Two others also were killed in the early Monday battle in the Sahara nation, the statement said.

France intervened in northern Mali in 2013 to rout Islamic extremists who had taken over the vast region. Today, such groups are cropping up anew.

France has about 1,200 troops in northeastern Mali as part of a five-nation counterterrorism operation.

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