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French soldiers kill Islamic State leader in Sahel

September 16, 2021

French troops have killed the leader of the west African branch of IS, according to French President Emmanuel Macron. The group is responsible for scores of violent attacks in several countries.

In the middle of the Sahel desert in northern Mali, a French soldier from the Barkhane force, armed and helmeted, stands protectively in front of a Malian army military pick-up.
Several thousand French soldiers are in Western Sahara fighting militant Islamist extremist groupsImage: Frederic Petry/Hans Lucas/picture alliance

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday morning that French military forces had killed Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, the leader of the so-called Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS).

"It's another major success in our fight against terrorist groups in the Sahel," Macron wrote in a tweet.

ISGS is active across large swathes of the Sahel region, especially the tri-border region between Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso known as Liptako-Gourma. The area has been ravaged by militant violence that has also targeted children.

Aside from carrying out multiple attacks on local civilians, ISGS was also responsible for the killing of US soldiers in 2017 and the execution of six French NGO workers in August of last year.

Increasing violence in the tri-border region

There are currently around 5,100 French troops present in the region as part of Operation Barkhane. They are joined by soldiers from Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad.

Due to the increasing violence, France has repeatedly pushed for support from other European countries. However, given minimal successes and growing criticism at home, Macron has said that the number of French soldiers in deployment will be halved by 2022.

Sahrawi formed ISGS in 2015 following a split from another group, Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), at which point he declared his group's allegiance to IS, the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) reports.

The group gained attention from IS media outlets in 2019 after carrying several attacks. ISGS has expanded its operations in recent months along the Niger-Burkina Faso border, according to ECFR.

ab/msh (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated where al-Sahrawi was killed.