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France calls killing of Islamic State leader big victory

PARIS —
The chief of the Islamic State within the Higher Sahara died of wounds from a drone strike that hit him on a bike final month in southern Mali, in a French-led operation involving backup from U.S., EU, Malian and Nigerien army forces, French authorities mentioned Thursday.

The French authorities didn’t disclose how they recognized him as Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, whose group has terrorized the area. The declare couldn’t instantly be independently verified.

France declared the killing a significant victory towards jihadists in Africa and justification for years of anti-extremist efforts within the Sahel. French authorities officers described al-Sahrawi as “enemy No. 1” within the area, and accused him of ordering or overseeing assaults on U.S. troops, French help staff and a few 2,000-3,000 African civilians – most of them Muslim.

Consultants referred to as the announcement huge and welcome information for governments struggling towards violent extremists — however warned that ISGS might discover a new chief, and that the specter of jihadist violence stays excessive.

“The loss of life of Al-Sahrawi will probably disrupt ISGS operations within the short-term. However it’s unlikely to completely cripple the extremist group,” mentioned Alexandre Raymakers, senior Africa analyst in danger intelligence firm Verisk Maplecroft.

He referred to as it a “tactical success” for Operation Barkhane contemplating Al-Sahrawi’s elimination had been a high precedence for the French army, however famous that regardless of the lack of a number of senior leaders to French army operations over time, the jihadist group has continued to increase its footprint within the Sahel.

“This reinforces our dedication to combat terrorism with our companions within the Sahel, with our American and European companions,” French Defence Minister Florence Parly informed reporters in Paris. “We is not going to go away the Sahel.”

Intelligence gleaned from the seize of ISGS fighters earlier this 12 months allowed France to hone in on particular areas the place Al-Sahrawi was prone to conceal, Parly mentioned.

He was on a bike with one different individual once they have been hit by a drone strike within the Dangalous Forest close to the Niger border on Aug. 17, considered one of a number of airstrikes within the area in mid-August, mentioned the chief of workers of France’s army, Thierry Burkhard.

France then despatched a workforce of 20 particular floor forces to the area to confirm the identities of these hit, and decided that about 10 ISGS members have been killed, together with Al-Sahrawi, in accordance with Burkhard.

French President Emmanuel Macron introduced the loss of life in a single day, after authorities took time to confirm his identification. Based on Macron’s workplace, al-Sahrawi personally ordered the killing of six French help staff and their Nigerien colleagues final 12 months, and his group was behind a 2017 assault that killed 4 U.S. troops and and 4 Niger army personnel.

His group additionally has kidnapped foreigners within the Sahel and is believed to nonetheless be holding American Jeffrey Woodke, who was kidnapped from his dwelling in Niger in 2016, in addition to a German hostage.

“The chief of the Islamic State was one of many greatest criminals and (IS) was probably the most violent teams that killed many individuals within the Sahel,” mentioned Mahamoudou Savadogo a battle analyst and former army officer in Burkina Faso. He mentioned this loss of life would “unburden” native communities and governments within the area.

French Overseas Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian urged African governments to fill the void and seize again floor taken by the Islamic State extremists.

Rida Lyammouri, senior fellow on the Coverage Centre for the New South, a Moroccan suppose tank, referred to as it a “enormous blow for ISGS” however added, “there shall be somebody who’s able to take over. The true success is when (the) civilian inhabitants is now not terrorized by this group and others.”

France’s head of overseas intelligence, Bernard Emie, estimated that a number of hundred jihadist fighters stay within the space.

Rumours of the militant chief’s loss of life had circulated for weeks in Mali, although authorities within the area had not confirmed it.

The extremist chief was born within the disputed territory of Western Sahara and later joined the Polisario Entrance. After spending time in Algeria, he made his method to northern Mali the place he grew to become an essential determine within the group generally known as MUJAO.

MUJAO was loyal to the regional al Qaeda affiliate. However in 2015, al-Sahrawi launched an audio message pledging allegiance to the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

France, the area’s former colonial energy, not too long ago introduced that it could be lowering its army presence within the area, with plans to withdraw 2,000 troops by early subsequent 12 months.

However Parly insisted that France would not pull out fully, saying the assault was proof that the worldwide cooperation within the area is bearing fruit.

She additionally reiterated issues about experiences of the doable deployment of Russian mercenaries in Mali. If Mali’s authorities have been to succeed in such a take care of Kremlin-backed non-public army agency Wagner Group, that might be “completely incompatible” with the anti-terrorism technique within the Sahel that led to the killing of the Islamic State chief, Parly mentioned.

Wagner has been accused of human rights abuses within the Central African Republic and involvement within the battle in Libya. Russia denies any involvement in Mali.

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Ahmed reported from Bamako, Mali. Krista Larson and Carley Petesch in Dakar, Senegal, and Sam Mednick in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, contributed.

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