France says head of Islamic State in Sahara has been killed

A soldier lies on the ground aiming his weapon
A French soldier secures a perimeter ahead of a French Barkhane force operation in Mali’s Gourma region on March 26.
(Daphne Benoit / AFP/Getty Images)

France’s president announced the death of Islamic State in the Greater Sahara’s leader late Wednesday, calling Adnan Abu al-Walid al-Sahrawi’s killing “a major success” for the French military after more than eight years fighting extremists in Africa’s Sahel region.

French President 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, though the Islamic State group is active along the border between Mali and Niger.

“The nation is thinking tonight 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,” Macron tweeted. “Their sacrifice is not in vain.”


Rumors of the militant leader’s death had circulated for weeks in Mali, though there had been no confirmation by authorities in the region. It was not immediately possible to independently verify the claim or to know how the remains had been identified.

“This is a decisive blow against this terrorist group,” French Defense Minister Florence Parly tweeted. “Our fight continues.”

Al-Sahrawi had claimed responsibility for a 2017 attack in Niger that killed four U.S. military personnel and four people with Niger’s military.

He had long been active with Islamic extremists in Mali, at one time serving as the spokesman of the Mali-based group known as MUJAO that controlled the major northern town of Gao during the jihadist occupation in 2012.

That group was loyal to the regional Al Qaeda affiliate. But Al-Sahrawi parted ways, and in October 2016 a video circulated on the internet in which he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

The French military has been fighting Islamic extremists in the Sahel region where it was once the colonial power after intervening in northern Mali in 2013. It recently announced, though, that it would be drawing down its military presence in the region, with plans to withdraw 2,000 troops by early next year.


News of Al-Sahrawi’s death comes as France’s global fight against the Islamic State organization is making headlines in Paris. The key defendant in the 2015 Paris attacks trial said Wednesday that those coordinated killings were in retaliation for French airstrikes on the Islamic State group, calling the deaths of 130 innocent people “nothing personal” as he acknowledged his role for the first time.