PARIS: The head of Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, who was wanted for deadly attacks on US soldiers and foreign aid workers, has been killed in an operation by French troops.
Adnan Abu Walid Al-Sahrawi was “neutralized by French forces,” President Emmanuel Macron tweeted early Thursday.
“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.
Defense Minister Florence Parly said 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 tweeted. “Our fight continues.”
The militant leader was behind the killing of French aid workers in 2020 and was also wanted by the United States over a deadly 2017 attack on US troops in Niger.
Sahrawi in 2015 formed Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (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 (GSIM).
ISGS has carried out deadly attacks targeting civilians and soldiers in the region.
The United States had offered a $5 million reward for information on the whereabouts of Sahrawi, who was wanted over an October 4, 2017 attack in Niger that killed four US Special Forces and four Niger troops.
On August 9, 2020, in Niger, the ISGS head personally ordered the killing of six French aid workers and their Niger guides and drivers.
In late 2019, the group carried out a series of large-scale attacks against military bases in Mali and Niger.
A former member of Western Sahara’s Polisario Front independence movement, Sahrawi joined Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) 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 scaleback 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 counter-terrorism 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 in another tweet after 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.
But 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.