French counter-terrorist forces killed a key Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) leader who was believed to be responsible for the murders of six French aid workers and two guides at a giraffe park in Niger in August 2020. 

The French killed Soumana Boura on December 20 in an airstrike from a drone as Boura was riding his motorcycle. The drone strike was carried out by “Operation Barkhane” by anti-terrorist forces north of Tillabéri, in northwestern Niger. 

The French Defense Ministry released a statement that said that in “close cooperation” with Nigerien authorities, troops from France’s Operation Barkhane killed Boura after they learned of his location in an ISIS sanctuary outside of Tillabéri. His body was recovered after completion of the airstrike and positively identified. 

They characterized the drone strike of Boura as a “major blow” against ISGS. It said it helped “to fight against the expansion of ISGS and stop it taking control of some parts of the three-border region” between Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso.

Screenshot of France 24 video of burned-out SUV that French aid workers were riding in when they were killed by ISIS terrorists while visiting a giraffe park.

Boura was a key suspect in the August 2020 murders of the group of French humanitarian workers from the Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED) and IMPACT Initiatives Inc., who had traveled to the Kouré reserve about 40 miles from the capital of Niamey. The group of four men and four women had been at the reserve for less than an hour when they were attacked by men on motorcycles, shot, and killed. Their vehicle was set on fire, and some of the victims were burned as well.

The victims passed through a government checkpoint at 10 a.m. on Sunday. Just 40 minutes later, a bus coming from the direction the group had traveled informed staff at the checkpoint that an attack had taken place only four miles back. 

A spokesman for the French Army’s General Staff, Colonel Pascal Ianni, said to AFP that Boura had filmed the execution of the eight victims in August and overseen the publication of the footage. The attackers cut a young woman’s throat in the group, shot the others dead, set fire to their jeep, and fled.

The French have been slowly exacting their revenge for the murders of their civilian aid workers while taking out the ISIS leaders who planned and conducted the attack. Earlier this fall, the French tracked down and killed Adnan Abou Walid al-Sahrawi, the head of the IS group’s Greater Sahara branch (ISGS) and the alleged mastermind of the deadly attack on French aid workers. In recent months, eleven other people have been arrested in Niger over their alleged involvement in the murders.

France has been involved in the Sahel and came to the aid of Mali, its former colony since a 2012 Tuareg separatist rebellion was hijacked by Islamic terror groups who were looking to expand their influence as they were taking large swaths of the Middle East in a self-styled caliphate. 

Special operators from the French-led Takuba Special Operations Task Force outside a helicopter before an operation. Photo French Defense Ministry

But after nine years of military presence in the Sahel region, the French people and the Malians have grown tired of their presence. France’s relationship with Mali has been growing increasingly contentious since the military has conducted two coups since last August. These tensions were further increased when the military junta that now runs the country announced a possible agreement with Russia and the bringing in of Wagner Group mercenaries to help with the nation’s security. 

France announced earlier this year that they would cut the number of French troops in Operation Barkhane from 5,100 to about 3,000. They have already turned over its northern Mali bases of Tessalit, Kidal, and Timbuktu and are refocusing their presence on Gao, Menaka, and Niamey.

However, they will remain in Mali as part of the G5 Sahel (Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, and Mauritania). They have also created the Special Operations Task Force – Takuba made up of several European units who will work through, with, and by the host nation forces. 

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