BAMAKO (Reuters) - Wanted Malian jihadist Iyad Ag Ghali has claimed an attack in southern Mali that killed a French soldier this week, France's foreign minister said on Friday.
Jean-Marc Ayrault was addressing journalists in Mali's capital Bamako, after earlier visiting French troops based in the northern city of Gao.
Islamist groups linked to Ag Ghali have claimed dozens of attacks on Malian, United Nations and French troops operating in Mali's desert north, including the one on Wednesday which killed the French soldier.
Former colonial power France intervened in 2013 to push back al Qaeda-linked militants who had hijacked an ethnic Tuareg uprising to seize northern Mali the year before. It has since deployed some 4,000 soldiers, known as the Barkhane force, across the region to hunt down Islamists.
A claim by Ag Ghali to have killed the soldier is likely to harden France's position that holding talks with the Islamists is not an option, despite suggestions from some Malian officials that such a move is necessary for peace.
A peace conference in Mali on Sunday concluded with calls for the government to start talks with the leaders of two Islamist groups which have staged deadly attacks, including Ag Ghali's.
(This version of the story corrects dateline to Bamako, from Gao)
(Reporting by John Irish; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Louise Ireland)