Mali claims death of Islamic State terrorist who collaborated with Niger ambush attack

Mali announced on Monday that it had killed a prominent Islamist commander who led a 2017 attack that killed four American soldiers and four Nigerian soldiers, along with their interpreter.

The US Department of State Prize money of $5 million The scar was inscribed on the head of Commander Abu Huzeifa, a member of the Islamic State group, after he took part in an attack on American Green Berets and their Nigerian comrades in Tongo Tongo, Niger.

At the time, the attack was the largest loss for American troops in combat in Africa since the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” debacle in Somalia.

in post Mali’s military said on social media on Monday that it “neutralized a major foreign terrorist leader during a major operation in Liptako (a tri-border area that includes parts of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger)” on Sunday. Announced.

The three military-led countries are uniting to fight extremist violence under a new partnership called the Sahel Alliance, which critics say is an attempt to legitimize the power grab. criticizes.

U.S. State Department and Pentagon officials said Tuesday they were aware of reports of Abu Huzeifa’s death but were seeking more information.

The United States has announced that eight people are wanted in connection with the Tongo Tongo attack. With Abu Huzeifa’s death, only Ibrahim Usman, known as Duundun Shehuf, is believed to be still alive. In 2021, France announced that it had killed the main planner of the attack, Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, head of the Islamic State branch.

The affiliate, now called Islamic State Sahel Province, declared allegiance to Islamic State. Although its core leadership was destroyed after al-Salawi’s murder, it has reunited and is “in the process of establishing a pseudo-state” in the border areas of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. According to ACLEDArmed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.

The announcer broadcasting news of Abu Huzeifa’s death on Mali’s state television channel described him only as a “foreigner.” Analysts said he was originally from either the disputed region of Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara or a camp in Algeria where refugees from the region have spent the past 40 years.

Photos and videos broadcast by the channel showed Abu Huzeifa with a flowing beard and mane of hair, a small man wearing a military uniform and goggles, holding an ISIS flag and a gun. .

“Where the world’s most powerful army failed, the Malian army succeeded,” said announcer Abdoulaye Sacco.

Mali has been in crisis since rebels and jihadists overran the northern desert in 2012. A French-led foreign military intervention sent thousands of troops but failed to stop the uprising.

In 2020, coup plotters used the security crisis to justify seizing power and overthrowing Mali’s elected government. But since then, the ruling junta has pursued the same military-first strategy as foreign militaries, and almost four years later, analysts say the situation has worsened.

After a decade of fighting against the Islamists, French troops withdrew in 2022. Mali’s junta instead relied on Russian military advisers and Wagner Group mercenaries, who are accused of committing atrocities in the process of tracking the militants.

“ISIS will replace him, and its affiliates will continue to expand throughout the region,” said Colin P. Clark, a counterterrorism analyst at the New York-based security consulting firm Soufan Group. At the same time, the presence of the United States and other Western countries will also expand.” It’s shrinking. ”

Despite the postponement of elections, Mali’s military junta appears to enjoy enduring popular support, particularly in Mali’s capital, Bamako. Last November, it boosted its popularity by retaking the northern city of Kidal, which had been in the hands of separatist rebels for a decade. Upon hearing that Kidal had fallen, dozens of people waved flags and celebrated in Bamako’s Independence Square.

Bamako residents welcomed the news of Abu Huzeifa’s death on Tuesday. But he had a lower profile than other jihadists fighting in Mali, and most people were too preoccupied with the hardships of daily life to celebrate.

Severe power outages, which cut power supply in many areas for less than six hours a day, have forced many businesses to shut down, with dire consequences for the economy. severe heat wave, Partly due to climate changecausing a spike in deaths and hospitalizations in Bamako.

On Tuesday, Bamako residents joked that Mali’s military government should collect $5 million in bounties from the Americans and use them to help stop the blackouts.

Eric Schmidt He contributed reporting from Washington.

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