The head of Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), who was wanted for deadly attacks on US soldiers and foreign aid workers, has been killed in an operation by French troops, France said yesterday.
Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi was “neutralized by French forces,” French President Emmanuel Macron wrote on Twitter.
“This is another major success in our fight against terrorist groups in the Sahel,” Macron said, without giving the location or details of the operation.
French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly said that al-Sahrawi died following a strike by France’s Barkhane force, which battles militants in the Sahel.
“It is a decisive blow against this terrorist group,” she wrote on Twitter. “Our fight continues.”
The militant leader was behind the killing of French aid workers last year and was also wanted by the US over a deadly 2017 attack on US troops in Niger.
Al-Sahrawi in 2015 formed ISGS, which is blamed for most of the militant attacks in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.
The flashpoint “tri-border” area is frequently targeted by ISGS and the al-Qaeda-affiliated Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims. ISGS has carried out deadly attacks targeting civilians and soldiers in the region.
The US had offered a US$5 million reward for information on the whereabouts of al-Sahrawi, who was wanted over an Oct. 4, 2017, attack in Niger that killed four US special forces and four Nigerien troops.
On Aug. 9 last year in Niger, the ISGS head ordered the killing of six French aid workers and their Nigerien guides and drivers.
In late 2019, the group carried out a series of large-scale attacks against military bases in Mali and Niger.
Al-Sahrawi, a former member of Western Sahara’s Polisario Front independence movement, joined al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and had also co-led Mujao, a Malian Islamist group responsible for kidnapping Spanish aid workers in Algeria and a group of Algerian diplomats in Mali in 2012.
The French military has killed several high-ranking members of ISGS under its strategy of targeting militant leaders since the start of its military intervention in Mali in 2013.
In June this year, Macron announced a major scale-back in France’s anti-militant Barkhane force in the Sahel after more than eight years of military presence in the vast region to refocus on counterterrorism operations and supporting local forces.
“The nation is thinking this evening of all its heroes who died for France in the Sahel in the Serval and Barkhane operations, of the bereaved families, of all its wounded,” Macron added on Twitter after al-Sahrawi was killed. “Their sacrifice is not in vain. With our African, European and American partners, we will continue this fight.”
The north of Mali fell under militant control in 2012 until they were pushed out of the cities by France’s military intervention in 2013.
Mali, an impoverished and landlocked nation home to at least 20 ethnic groups, continues to battle militant attacks and intercommunal violence, which often spills over to neighboring countries.
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