For more than a year and a half, it was the “priority” objective of France and its allies in the Sahel. Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, whose death was announced by President Emmanuel Macron, was considered the most ruthless jihadist leader in the area.
Since August, information has been circulating about the death of the leader of the self-styled group “Islamic State in the Greater Sahara” (EIGS), between Ménaka, in the northeast of Mali, and the other side of the border with Niger, its main camp. action.
It was Wednesday night when Paris announced that it had been “neutralized by French forces”, an operation carried out in mid-August, according to the Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly.
Former inhabitant of the Polisario Front camps
The man in his forties, with a black beard and a turban according to the few photos that are known of him, was born in Western Sahara, which earned him the nickname al Sahraoui.
Some sources place him as a member of the Polisario Front, which demands the independence of this region from Morocco.
Contacted by euronews to clarify this point, from the Polisario Front they assure that he simply resided in the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria after having lived in the territory occupied by Morocco. He received an education in Algeria and at some point the Front lost track of him until he began to stand out as a jihadist fighter.
After spending part of his youth in Algeria, where he joined armed Islamist groups, according to various experts, he participated in the creation in 2011 in northern Mali of the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (Muyao).
The Muyao group became known for the kidnapping in October 2011 of two Spanish aid workers and an Italian one in a Sahrawi refugee camp near Tindouf, in southwestern Algeria, a terrain well known to Abu Walid.
At the time, Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahraoui himself claimed to have paid a “considerable ransom” of 15 million euros to the very much for release in July 2012.
El Muyao is part of the jihadist coalition linked to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqmi), which took control of northern Mali in March-April 2012. He was then its spokesperson, based in Gao, the main city of the region, where he left the memory of an uncompromising supporter of the application of sharia, particularly corporal punishment.
“If in Gao, more than anywhere else, the hands of people accused of theft have been cut off, it is on the instructions of Abu Walid,” a city official told AFP, who requested anonymity.
Following the 2013 launch of the French Operation Serval, which drove jihadists from cities and towns in northern Mali, the very much The defeated merged with the group of the Algerian Mokhtar Belmokhtar, to create the Al-Mourabitoune group.
But in 2015, Adnan Abou Walid al-Sahraoui, reputed to have a more transnational and globalized view of jihad than most of his Sahelian counterparts, disassociated himself from the Belmokhtar group, still affiliated with Al-Qaeda, to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) group.
In 2017, when groups claiming to be like Aqmi merged into the Islam and Muslim Support Group (Jnim, according to its acronym in Arabic), led by Malian Tuareg leader Iyad Ag Ghaly, it struck in October with the Tongo Tongo ambush in Niger, in which four American and four Nigerian soldiers were killed.
The group is growing stronger in the so-called “three borders” area, on the borders of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. The many deadly attacks on Tuareg communities are attributed to EIGS, which largely recruits the Fulani and is accused of deliberately participating in inter-ethnic tensions.
Experts and security sources attribute to Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi both a highly personalized command exercise and an apparent disregard for civilian deaths.
A Malian security source describes him as the “absolute master” of EIGS, who “did not hesitate to carry out attacks against foreign and Nigerian troops on the border with Mali himself.”
Between the end of 2019 and January 2020, a series of attacks Attributed primarily to his group against Nigerian, Malian and Burkinabe military camps in the “three borders” area, hundreds were killed.
This escalation led France and the G5 Sahel countries (Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad) to designate EIGS as their “priority enemy” in January 2020, on which they were focusing their efforts.
Despite the losses suffered, the group persists in its desire to impose an uncompromising view of sharia law, sometimes accusing its rivals of applying it lukewarmly.
In May, for example, at the weekly market in Tin Hama, near Ansongo (north), members of EIGS publicly amputated a hand and a foot from three suspected members of a gang of road robbers.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.