France says it captured Islamic State bigwig in Mali | New
Oumeya Ould Albakaye, leader of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara in two provinces of Mali and Burkina Faso, was captured during a night operation this week.
French troops operating on the border between Mali and Niger have arrested a senior official of the armed group Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), Paris authorities have announced.
In a statement released on Wednesday, the French Armed Forces Ministry said Oumeya Ould Albakaye was captured on the night of June 11-12 by Operation Barkhane – a French military operation deployed in the Sahel region since 2013.
The military action, which began weeks ago, involved the air force and a ground unit, the statement said. The army added that several mobile phones and weapons were seized.
Albakaye was the leader of the ISGS, a group affiliated with the ISIL group (ISIS), in the provinces of Gourma and Oudalan, two regions respectively in Mali and Burkina Faso. The French army indicated that he was also responsible for coordinating a network implementing explosive devices.
ISGS was founded in 2015 by Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, who was killed last September.
Mali has been rocked by violence for a decade, especially in its border region of Niger and Burkina Faso. In 2013, France intervened to quell a revolt in the north. But the rebels regrouped to attack the country’s volatile center, sparking a full-throated rebellion that President-elect Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was unable to curb.
In August 2020, protests against Keita culminated in a coup by disgruntled Malian army colonels – a move that was followed by a second military coup in May 2021.
From this point on, relations with France steadily deteriorated, propelled by the army’s resistance to setting a quick date to restore civilian rule and by allegations from Bamako that France was inducing regional neighbors to adopt a hard line against his military rule.
Things got worse in 2021 as Mali’s military tightened ties with Moscow, bringing in “military instructors” whom France and its allies called mercenaries hired by the pro-Kremlin group Wagner.
In January of this year, the French ambassador in Bamako was expelled and the following month France announced the withdrawal of its troops from Mali and those of the French Takuba force.
While the army initially pledged to return power to civilians by February 2022, it pushed back the date to March 24 on Monday – a move that has not gone down well with the ECOWAS regional player which imposed sanctions on Mali.