Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, who was wanted by the US, led the Islamic State in Greater Sahara armed group.
France says that the leader of ISIL (ISIS)-affiliated Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISGS) group, known for its deadly attacks in the so-called tri-border region of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, has been killed by French forces.
“[Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi], leader of the terrorist group Islamic State in the Greater Sahara was neutralised by French forces,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in a tweet on Thursday.
“This is another major success in our fight against terrorist groups in the Sahel,” Macron added, without providing details or location of the operation.
Rumours of the ISGS leader’s death had circulated for weeks in Mali, though authorities in the region had not confirmed it.
In another tweet, French Defence Minister Florence Parly said al-Sahrawi died following a raid by France’s Barkhane force – a 5,100-man operation active in the Sahel region for more than eight years.
“It is a decisive blow against this terrorist group,” she tweeted. “Our fight continues.”
The armed group’s leader was behind the killing of French aid workers in 2020 and was also wanted by the United States over a deadly 2017 attack on US troops in Niger.
ISGS, formed by al-Sahrawi in 2015, has been blamed for most of the attacks in recent years on civilians and soldiers in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.
The flashpoint area has frequently come under attack by ISGS and the al-Qaeda-affiliated Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (GSIM).
The US had offered a $5m reward for information on the whereabouts of al-Sahrawi, who was wanted over an October 4, 2017 attack in Niger that killed four US Special Forces and four Niger troops.
On August 9, 2020, in Niger, the ISGS head personally ordered the killing of six French aid workers and their Niger guides and drivers.
In late 2019, the group carried out a series of large-scale attacks against military bases in Mali and Niger.
A former member of Western Sahara’s Polisario Front independence movement, al-Sahrawi joined al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and had also co-led the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa or Mujao, a Malian armed group responsible for kidnapping Spanish aid workers in Algeria and a group of Algerian diplomats in Mali in 2012.
The French military has killed several high-ranking members of ISGS under its strategy of taking out fighters since the start of its military intervention in Mali in 2013.
In June this year, Macron announced a huge scaling back of France’s Barkhane force in the Sahel after more than eight years of military presence in the vast region to refocus on supporting local forces.
“The 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,” Macron added in another tweet after al-Sahrawi was killed.
“Their sacrifice is not in vain. With our African, European and American partners, we will continue this fight.”
Al Jazeera and news agencies