A jihadist movement led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who is linked to Al Qaeda, has reportedly claimed responsibility for the death of a French soldier in Mali.
The French defence ministry announced on Tuesday that Dejvid Nikolic, a Serbian-born legionnaire, was killed north of Gao, one of three main towns in the desert north of the Sahel nation, taking to nine the number of French troops to have died in Mali.
Six other soldiers were wounded.
"A jihadist of our group succeeded in blowing up his booby-trapped vehicle against a unit of the invasion forces in the Al-Moustarat region," a spokesman for the group Al-Mourabitoune, Abou Aassim El Mouhajir, said late on Wednesday via the private Mauritanian news agency Alakhbar.agency.
"(Monday's) attack was a reply addressed to the French who claim to have annihilated the jihadist forces and succeeded with Operation Serval," he added, referring to the military task force deployed in January 2013 to try to drive out armed Islamists who occupied towns in northern Mali for more than nine months.
Al-Mourabitoune is an armed movement formed last year by the merger of the Signatories in Blood group led by Belmokhtar and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), which has been highly active in the Gao region.
Belmokhtar, a former chief of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, is wanted by the security services of several countries and is currently believed to be in southern Libya.
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is on Thursday due to visit Gao during a visit to Mali, where he has signed a military cooperation agreement to step up the fight against Islamists in the north.
Paris has also announced that Operation Serval is to be replaced by a permanent anti-terrorist force known as Barkhane, with some 3,000 men covering Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad.