The chief of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, who had been chased for years following fatal attacks on US soldiers and French charity workers, was killed by French troops deployed in Africa’s Sahel area, France announced Thursday. After parting with jihadists tied to Al-Qaeda, Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi founded the ISGS in 2015, pledging allegiance to the Islamic State (IS), which at the time controlled large swaths of Iraq and Syria.
President Emmanuel Macron tweeted early Thursday that Sahrawi had been “neutralized by French forces,” calling it “another major success in our fight against terrorist groups in the Sahel.” Defence Minister Florence Parly said Sahrawi was killed in mid-August by France’s Barkhane force, which fights jihadists across the arid Sahel region of Western Africa.
At the press briefing, France’s army chief of staff, Thierry Burkhard, revealed he was one of two people killed by a drone strike on a motorcycle near Indelimane in northern Mali. Sahrawi’s identity had only recently been confirmed, according to Parly. “He was the supreme commander of ISGS and made all decisions,” she explained. His killing, she said, was a “decisive blow” to IS command structures in the region, as well as “to its cohesion,” because ISGS will “no doubt have trouble replacing its emir with a figure of equal prominence.”
Parly said that Sahrawi “personally directed” the attack that killed six French aid workers and their two local guides in August 2020 while visiting a wildlife area in Niger. He was also wanted by the US in connection with an attack in Niger on October 4, 2017, that killed four US Special Forces and four Niger soldiers. A $5 million reward had been offered by the US for information on Sahrawi’s location. The group is also suspected of being responsible for the majority of jihadist attacks in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso.
The group launched a series of large-scale operations against military outposts in Mali and Niger in late 2019. ISGS and the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (GSIM) routinely target the volatile “tri-border” area with lethal attacks against civilians and soldiers.
Sahrawi, a former member of the Polisario Front independence movement in Western Sahara, joined Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and co-led Mujao, a Malian Islamist gang that kidnapped Spanish humanitarian workers in Algeria and a number of Algerian diplomats in Mali in 2012.