French troops have "neutralised" the jihadist leader CREDIT: AP
The head of the 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 on Thursday.
"This is another major success in our fight against terrorist groups in the Sahel," Mr. Macron said, without giving the location or details of the operation.
The jihadist 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. Islamic State in the Greater Sahara is blamed for most of the jihadist attacks in the Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso regions.
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 Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso.
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.
A wanted poster of Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi CREDIT: Rewards For Justice
Sahrawi was formerly a member of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and 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 jihadist leaders since the start of its military intervention in Mali in 2013. In June this year, Mr. Macron announced a major scaleback in France's anti-jihadist 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. "Their sacrifice is not in vain. With our African, European and American partners, we will continue this fight," Mr. Macron added in another tweet.
The north of Mali fell under jihadist 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 jihadist attacks and intercommunal violence, which often spills over to neighbouring countries.