Al-Sahrawi group accused of killing US and French troops in troubled Sahel region
This undated image provided by Rewards For Justice shows a wanted message from Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, the leader of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara. PA
French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday announced the death of the head of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, calling the murder of Adnan Abu al-Walid al-Sahraoui a “major success” for the French military after more than eight years fight against extremists in the Sahel.
Macron tweeted that al-Sahrawi “has been neutralized by French forces” but gave no further details.
Adnan Abou Walid al Sahraoui, leader of the terrorist group Islamic State in the Greater Sahara was neutralized by French forces. This is another major success in our fight against terrorist groups in the Sahel.
âEmmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) September 15, 2021
It has not been announced where al-Sahrawi was killed, although the Islamic State group is active along the border between Mali and Niger.
So who is al-Sahrawi and what his death means in a broader perspective.
al-Sahrawi was born in LaÃ¢youne, Western Sahara, into a wealthy family of traders who fled the city for refugee camps in Algeria.
He joined the Polisario Front, a rebel movement for the national liberation of the Saharawi people (of the Sahara) claiming Western Sahara, which had been controlled by Spain and Mauritania, and received military training.
In 2010, he joined the Katiba Tarik ibn Zayd, an Al-Qaeda unit in the Islamic Maghreb.
It is reported that in 2015, al-Sahrawi declared his allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, head of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and formed the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.
The most wanted jihadist in the Sahel
The al-Sahrawi militia has been very active in the border region linking Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.
He claimed responsibility for the October 2017 attack in Niger that killed four US servicemen and four members of the Nigerien army.
In Washington, where the death of the four soldiers was very badly received, his head was put at a price of 5 million dollars.
In August 2020, al-Sahrawi personally ordered the murder of six French charity workers and their Nigerian driver.
It is reported that al-Sahrawi imposed Sharia law in the region, making the veil compulsory for women, enforcing the cutting of hands on thieves and banning music, sports, alcohol and tobacco.
Mohamed Ould Mataly, now deputy for Bourem, remembering the head of the Islamic State in the Great Sahara, is said to have said The Africa report in 2020, that “he was withdrawn, concentrated, speaking only for brief interventions – preferably in Arabic, even if he speaks French”.
al-Sahrawi, according to people who have seen him in the past, was particularly vigilant, always armed and obsessed with his safety. He never used a phone and never made any videos or audio recordings. The vast majority of his fighters have never seen him.
The Africa report in a 2020 article on the Islamic State, the leader said that when he had to move, he did so on a motorcycle, and without an escort so as not to attract attention.
Reacting to his death, French Defense Minister Florence Parly tweeted: “This is a decisive blow against this terrorist group. Our fight continues.”
President Emmanuel Macron added on Twitter: âThe 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. “
The French army is fighting Islamic extremists in the Sahel region where France was once the colonial power since the 2013 intervention in northern Mali. He recently announced, however, that he would reduce his military presence in the region, with plans to withdraw 2,000 troops by early next year.
News of al-Sahrawi’s death comes as France’s global struggle against ISIS is making headlines in Paris. The main defendant in the 2015 Paris bombings trial said on Wednesday the coordinated killings were in retaliation for French airstrikes against the Islamic State group, calling the deaths of 130 innocent people “nothing personal” as he acknowledged his role for the first time.
With contributions from agencies