The French president announced late on Wednesday that the leader of the Daesh terrorist group in the Greater Sahara had been killed, describing the death of Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi as “a great success” for the French military after more than eight years fighting extremists in the Sahel.
Emmanuel Macron tweeted that al-Sahrawi was “neutralized by French forces” but gave no further details. It was not announced where al-Sahrawi was killed, although the Daesh group is active along the Mali-Niger border.
“Tonight the nation thinks of all its heroes who died for France in the Sahel in the Serval and Barkhane operations, of the bereaved families, of all their wounded,” Macron tweeted. “Their sacrifice is not in vain.”
This undated image from Rewards For Justice shows a wanted poster by Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, leader of Daesh in Greater Sahara. French President Emmanuel Macron announced the death of al-Sahrawi on September 15, 2021, calling the killing “a great success.” (AP Photo)
Rumors of the death of the militant leader had been circulating for several weeks in Mali, although authorities in the region had not confirmed it. It was not immediately possible to independently verify the claim or to know how the remains had been identified.
“This is a decisive blow to this terrorist group,” tweeted French Defense Minister Florence Parly. “Our struggle continues.”
Al-Sahrawi had claimed responsibility for an attack in Niger in 2017 that killed four U.S. military personnel and four Nigerian military personnel. His group has also kidnapped foreigners in the Sahel and is still believed to be holding American Jeffrey Woodke, who was abducted from his home in Niger in 2016.
The extremist leader was born in the disputed territory of Western Sahara and later joined the Polisario Front with the support of Algeria. After spending time in Algeria, he moved to northern Mali where he became an important figure in the MUJAO group that controlled the large northern city of Gao in 2012.
A French-led military operation the following year drove extremists out of power in Gao and other northern cities, although these elements were later regrouped and carried out attacks again.
The Malian group MUJAO was loyal to the regional al-Qaeda affiliate. But in 2015, al-Sahrawi released an audio message promising allegiance to the Daesh group in Iraq and Syria.
The French military has been fighting extremists in the Sahel region, where France was once a colonial power since the 2013 intervention in northern Mali. However, it recently announced that it would reduce its military presence in the region, with plans to withdraw 2,000 troops early next year.
News of al-Sahrawi’s death comes as France’s global fight against the Daesh organization makes headlines in Paris. The main accused in the attacks on the Paris trial in 2015 said on Wednesday that the coordinated killings were a retaliation for French airstrikes against the Daesh group and called the deaths of 130 innocent people “nothing personal” when he acknowledged his role for the first time.