"On June 3, French army forces with the support of their local partners, killed al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb's emir, Abdelmalek Droukdel, and several of his closest collaborators, during an operation in northern Mali", French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly wrote on Twitter.
She said the operations dealt a "severe blow" to terrorist groups in the region that have been operating for years despite the presence of thousands of French, U.N. and other African troops.
There was no immediate confirmation of his death from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, known as AQIM. The group operates across northern Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Algeria. In Mali, it focused its activities to the north in Libya and Tunisia.
Tensions erupted in Mali in 2012 following a failed coup and a Touareg rebellion that ultimately allowed al-Qaeda-linked militant groups to take control of the northern half of the country.
The U.S. Africa Command confirmed its assistance in tracking down Droukdel "with intelligence and ISR support to fix the target" according to Col. Chris Karns.
France also claimed on Friday to have captured a leader of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (EIGS) group, which carries out frequent attacks over Niger's western borders. He was caught on 19 May, she added.
Since sending troops in 2013 to contain jihadists terrorising Mali, France has struggled to root out extremism from the region.
A source told AFP that some 500 jihadist fighters had been killed or captured by French troops in the region in recent months, among them several leading figures including commanders and recruiters.
A United States military official described Droukdal as being involved in all aspects of the AQIM organization including financing, planning and the facilitation and execution of terrorist attacks, saying Droukdal "was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent civilians".
Droukdal headed all al-Qaida affiliates in North Africa and also commanded the Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), an active terrorist group in the Sahel Strip of West Africa.
The Counter-Terrorism Project website said Droukdel has been described as charismatic but ruthless, ready to eliminate members of AQIM who rejected his instructions or ideological positions.
It was not clear how long Droukdel had been in Mali, Algeria's southern neighbor.
The GSPC, however, refused to do so and Droukdel chose to approach Al-Qaeda.