France’s president announced on Wednesday the assassination of Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, the terrorist Islamic State’s (IS) commander in the Greater Sahara, calling his death “a major success” for the French military after more than eight years of battling extremists in the Sahel.
Emmanuel Macron, the French president, tweeted that al-Sahrawi had been “neutralized by French forces,” but did not elaborate. Although the IS organization is present near the Mali-Niger border, it is unclear where al-Sahrawi was murdered.
“The nation is thinking tonight of all its heroes who died for France in the Sahel in the Serval and Barkhane operations, of the bereaved families, of all of its wounded,” Macron tweeted. “Their sacrifice is not in vain.”
La Nation pense ce soir à tous ses héros morts pour la France au Sahel dans les opérations Serval et Barkhane, aux familles endeuillées, à tous ses blessés. Leur sacrifice n’est pas vain. Avec nos partenaires africains, européens et américains, nous poursuivrons ce combat.
— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) September 15, 2021
Rumors about the terrorist leader’s death had been circulating in Mali for weeks, but officials in the country had yet to confirm it. It was not possible to independently verify the claim or discover how the remains were identified right away.
“This is a decisive blow against this terrorist group,” French Defence Minister Florence Parly tweeted. “Our fight continues.”
Le chef de l’EIGS – n°1 de Daech au Sahel – est mort à la suite d’une frappe de la force Barkhane. Je félicite les militaires et agents de renseignement qui ont contribué à cette traque de longue haleine. C’est un coup décisif contre ce groupe terroriste. Notre combat continue. https://t.co/zqNPB3HCRN
— Florence Parly (@florence_parly) September 15, 2021
Al-Sahrawi claimed responsibility for a 2017 assault in Niger that killed four US service members and four Niger military soldiers. His group has also kidnapped Westerners in the Sahel, and it is thought that American Jeffrey Woodke, who was kidnapped from his house in Niger in 2016, is still being held captive.
Born in the disputed region of Western Sahara, the extreme commander subsequently joined the Polisario Front. He moved to northern Mali after spending time in Algeria, where he became a key member in the MUJAO organization, which in 2012 held the main northern town of Gao.
The next year, a French-led military campaign deposed radicals in Gao and other northern towns, but the elements subsequently reunited and carried out assaults again.
The Malian organization MUJAO was an Al Qaeda affiliate in the area. Al-Sahrawi, on the other hand, issued an audio statement in 2015 swearing allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Since the 2013 operation in northern Mali, the French military has been battling Islamists in the Sahel area, where France was formerly the colonial power. It did, however, recently declare that it would be decreasing its military presence in the area, with plans to remove 2,000 soldiers by early next year.
The murder of al-Sahrawi comes as France’s worldwide battle against the Islamic State makes headlines in Paris. On Wednesday, a major defendant in the 2015 Paris attacks trial acknowledged for the first time that the coordinated killings were in retaliation for French airstrikes against IS, calling the deaths of 130 innocent people “nothing personal.”