US, Nigeria, 81-member global coalition meet over ISIS threats in West Africa

ISIS leader Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi was killed in mid-August by a French drone strike after being tracked by counter-terrorism forces in northern Mali, French authorities confirmed yesterday.

Sahrawi was the head of Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), a jihadist group that broke away from other militants in Mali in 2015 when it pledged allegiance to Islamic State.

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Since then, ISGS militants have spread into neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger, carried out hundreds of deadly attacks on civilians and armed forces, and rendered large areas of West Africa’s arid Sahel region ungovernable.

French authorities called the drone strike by military forces a ‘decisive blow’ against the group, and vowed to continue hunting down jihadist leaders to restore stability in the Sahel.

‘The death of Sahrawi is a decisive blow to ISGS and its cohesion,’ French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly told reporters. 

Sahrawi had been tracked by French counter-terrorism forces in northern Mali, and then killed by a drone strike while riding a motorbike in mid-August, she said.

France estimates the group is responsible for the deaths of 2,000-3,000 people, mostly Muslims, and that it still has hundreds of fighters, although Parly said its leadership was now less international and more from the local Fulani tribe.

French President Emmanual Macron hailed the killing of the terrorist leader as ‘a major success’ in the fight against terrorist groups in the Sahel.

He thanked the ‘heroes who died for France’ in a Twitter post late on Wednesday that announced Sahrawi’s death, and remembered the bereaved families, saying that ‘their sacrifice is not in vain. 

Rumours of the ISIS leader’s death had been circulating in Mali for weeks but had not been confirmed by authorities. 

Paris has started reshaping its 5,000-strong Barkhane mission to include more European partners and earlier this month began redeploying from bases in northern Mali.

France has launched a diplomatic offensive to stop the Malian junta from agreeing a deal to enlist Russian mercenaries, which Paris has said would be incompatible with its presence in Mali.

The strike on Sahrawi, which comes just two months after the death of Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Nigeria’s Boko Haram, follows other hits on ISGS’s senior ranks, that have been weakened by recent targeted operations that have killed five of its seven top leaders.

Yet the group remains dangerous and has carried out a series of deadly attacks on civilians, especially in Niger, where casualties have risen sharply this year.

‘We have no information on a successor at this stage, but it probably won’t be easy to find a leader who has the same weighting as the one who was killed,’ Parly said.

Bernard Emie, head of France’s external intelligence service, told reporters there would now be increased focus on neutralizing Iyad Ag Ghaly, the head of al-Qaeda’s North African wing, whose group has carried out sporadic operations around the Ivory Coast and Senegalese border regions.

‘The death of Sahrawi will likely disrupt ISGS operations in the short-term,’ said Alexandre Raymakers, senior Africa analyst at risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft. ‘But it is unlikely to permanently cripple the extremist group.’


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