Adnan Abu Walid al Sahraoui, the founder and leader of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara killed this Thursday by France, he was one of the most wanted terrorists in the world. The United States had priced $ 5 million to his head.
“He was at the origin of the massacres and terror”said the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, after the announcement of his death.
Al Sahraoui —Alias of Lehbib Ould Ali Ould Said Ould Yumani— was born in 1973 in the city of Laayoune, at Sahara Occidental, a former Spanish colony that is now disputed territory controlled by Morocco. Initially he was active in the Polisario Front, a guerrilla group backed by Algeria that it looked for the independence of the Western Sahara. According to local sources, at that time Al Sahraoui began to criticize the social policy of the Polisario, declaring against mixed schools and women playing an active role in social life.
He later joined the Saudi center for Ibn Abbas, in Mauritania, considered a recruitment center for terrorists in the region, before joining Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and move to Sahel, where he fought alongside the jihadists who seized Timbuktu. He later joined the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, a Malian group affiliated with Al Qaeda.
Then in 2015, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, becoming the head of a new extremist group franchise in the area, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (EIGS).
In his six years as EIGS leader, the group emerged as a rival to al Qaeda affiliated groups most deeply rooted in the region. As Western coalition forces and their local allies dismantled the terror group in its strongholds in Syria e Iraq, Al Sahraoui built the group’s political and financial power in Africa, using funds raised through illegal activities – such as smuggling, selling stolen livestock, and trafficking in migrants – to buy weapons, gain the loyalty of members of the local tribes and pay the salaries of fighters and administrators in the areas under their control.
He also imposed Islamic law in the region: he made veils mandatory for women, imposed the cutting of hands on thieves, and banned music, sports, alcohol and tobacco.
His most shocking crimes
In 2017, Al Sahraoui claimed responsibility for a ambushed in October 2017 in the Nigerian village of Tongo tongo, in which four US special forces soldiers and four Nigerians were killed. The attack caused the greatest loss of American life in combat in Africa since the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993.
After that operation, Al Sahraoui crossed the Sahel on a Honda motorcycle carrying a short-barreled machine gun seized from one of the fallen US soldiers. A gesture that carried a symbolism that the jihadist leader was aware of.
“It was a trophy”said Husseini Jibril, a former Islamic State agent who met with al-Sahrawi before surrendering to the Nigerian government in 2020.
In response, The United States put a $ 5 million bounty on his head, making him one of the most wanted men in Africa.
Al Sahraoui’s group he also kidnapped foreigners in the Sahel and is believed to still hold the American Jeffrey Woodke, who was abducted from his home in Niger in 2016.
In August 2020, personally ordered the murder of six French charity workers and their Nigerian driver.
But the jihadist violence hit the local population first.
Under the leadership of Al Sahraoui, the fighters of the EIGS launched a series of massacres against local populations in the so-called three-state border region that unites Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. In June, jihadists, many of them child soldiers, killed 130 Burkinabe civilians. It was the worst terrorist atrocity in the country’s history, prompting calls for intensifying international efforts to fight terrorism in West Africa.
It is estimated that, in total, 2,400 civilians were killed in separate attacks in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso last year, according to data from the Armed Conflict Events and Location Data Project. Al Sahraoui’s group was the deadliest, causing the 79% of deaths from violence against civilians in Niger until June 2021ACLED said. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that the conflict has displaced some 684,000 people in the region.
Al Sahraoui also focused his firepower on his former al Qaeda comrades., sending troops, car bombs and suicide bombers to their bases as the two groups fought for supremacy across the Sahel.
Last year, a US-backed French operation killed regional al Qaeda leader Abdelmalek DroukdelBut US, French and regional officials were forced to reverse unconfirmed claims of the killings of other top terrorists, including Al Sahraoui’s deputy Abdelhakim al-Sahrawi.
This Thursday, the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, announced Al Sahraoui’s death as “a great success” for the French army after more than eight years fighting extremists in the Sahel. Macron tweeted that Al Sahraoui “was neutralized by French forces,” but did not elaborate.
It was not announced where Al Sahraoui was killed, although the Islamic State group is still active along the Mali-Niger border.
Al-Sahrawi’s death would leave another Islamist militant, Iyad Ag Ghaly, in the sights of France. Ghaly’s organization, the Islam and Muslim Support Group, was behind a 2018 attack on the French Embassy in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso.
“Clearly today it is Iyad Ag Ghaly who is the number one priority,” said Éric Vidaud, France’s top special forces commander, in June. “He is the person that we absolutely must capture, or neutralize if that is not possible, in the coming months.”
France, the region’s former colonial power, recently announced that it would reduce its military presence in the region, with plans to withdraw 2,000 soldiers early next year.