French President Emmanuel Macron took to Twitter on Wednesday to announce that French forces have killed the top leader of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara. 

Adnan Abou Walid al Sahraoui, leader of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS), who was wanted by the U.S. for the ambush and killing of four American servicemen in 2017, and had personally ordered the murder of six French aid workers and their Malian drivers in 2020, was killed in a French-led air and ground operation in Mali. 

“Adnan Abou Walid al Sahraoui, leader of the terrorist group Islamic State in the Greater Sahara was neutralized by French forces. This is another major success in our fight against terrorist groups in the Sahel,” Macron wrote. 

“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 of its wounded. Their sacrifice is not in vain. With our African, European and American partners, we will continue this fight,” Macron added.

French Defense Minister Florence Parly confirmed that Sahraoui died. The ISIS-GS leader and another ISIS member were struck on a motorcycle by French forces. The elimination of Sahraoui was part of Operation Barkhane which battles jihadists in the Sahel.

“It is a decisive blow against this terrorist group,” Parly wrote on Twitter. “Our fight continues.”

According to Parly, the operation took place between August 17 and 21.

Adnan Abou Walid al Sahraoui wanted
Wanted poster of Sahraoui from the U.S. government.

Sahraoui has made the rounds of Islamic jihadist movements. Originally, a member of Western Sahara’s Polisario Front independence movement, he later joined al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). He was also one of the co-leaders of Mujao, an Islamist group in Mali that was responsible for kidnapping Spanish aid workers in Algeria and a group of Algerian diplomats in 2012.

In 2015, Sahraoui broke with AQIM and became the leader of ISIS-GS. In 2017, he claimed responsibility for the ambush and killing of four soldiers from the 3rd Special Forces Group in Niger.

The U.S. State Department designated ISIS-GS as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 2018 and a year later announced a five million dollar reward for information leading to the capture of al Sahraoui.

Macron’s presidential spokesperson stated that Sahraoui was responsible for “cowardly and particularly deadly” attacks targeting civilians and security forces in Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso.


France Reduces its Regional Footprint

The French-led effort in the Sahel is gradually giving way to the multinational special operations task force Takuba which has garnered support from several European countries.

President Macron
French President Emmanuel Macron. (AP)

The fighting in Mali has been ongoing since 2012 when a Taureg separatist revolt was hijacked by Islamic jihadists. France entered the fray in support of its former colony in 2013 and has been involved in the region since. However, French public opinion has grown weary of French troops being in harm’s way and is pushing the government to withdraw. 

President Macron earlier in June pledged that France would begin winding down its 5,100 troops in the Sahel, although they will continue to be the backbone of the Takuba Special Operations Task Force.

Meanwhile, in Paris, another ISIS terrorist, Salah Abdeslam, a self-described “fighter for the Islamic State,” is on trial for taking part in several deadly terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015 that killed 130 people. Abdeslam said that the attacks “were nothing personal.”

“We fought France, we attacked France, we targeted the civilian population. It was nothing personal against them,” the terrorist said.