France killed the leader of the Islamic State in Greater Sahara after the group targeted French humanitarian workers, African civilians and US troops, French officials said Thursday, calling him “enemy number 1” in the protracted anti-terrorism Efforts in the Sahel. French President Emmanuel Macron announced the death of Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi overnight. According to Macron’s office, al-Sahrawi personally ordered the killing of six French aides and their Nigerian counterparts last year, and his group was behind a 2017 attack that killed the US and Nigerien military personnel. He was killed “a few weeks ago” in an attack by the French military operation Barkhane, but authorities waited to verify his identity before making the announcement, French Defense Minister Florence Parly told RFI radio on Thursday.
Details about the operation or the location where the Sahrawi was killed were not disclosed, although the Islamic State group is active on the border between Mali and Niger. “He was the origin of the massacres and terror,” said French Foreign Minister JeanYves Le Drian on FranceInfo radio on Thursday, calling on African governments to fill the void and reclaim the soil of Islamic State extremists. Rumors of the death of the militant leader had been circulating in Mali for weeks, although the region’s authorities had not confirmed it and it was not possible to independently verify the report or learn how the remains were immediately identified.
Al-Sahrawi confessed to an attack in Niger in 2017 that killed four US soldiers and four people from the Nigerian army.His group has also kidnapped foreigners in the Sahel and is believed to be still detaining the American Jeffrey Woodke, who was kidnapped from his home in Niger in 2016. The extremist leader was born in the disputed area of Western Sahara and later joined the Polisario.
After spending time in Algeria, he made his way to northern Mali, where he became a key figure in the group known as MUJAO, which controlled the northernmost city of Gao in 2012. A French military operation the following year overthrew Islamic extremists in power in Gao and other northern cities, although these elements later regrouped and attacked again. The Malian group MUJAO was loyal to the regional al-Qaeda affiliate, but in 2015 al-Sahrawi released an audio message pledging allegiance to the Islamic State Group in Iraq and Syria.