(New York, N.Y.) — Today, France announced the successful apprehension of Oumeya Ould Albakaye, a senior leader of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS). French forces carried out the operation on June 11 as Albakaye attempted to cross the Niger-Mali border, a region where ISGS is known to be active. Albakaye’s capture comes as France has started to pull its troops out of Mali due to deteriorating relations between the two countries.
ISGS is based in Mali and Niger and has carried out multiple attacks in northern Mali as well as neighboring Burkina Faso. In May 2015, Adnan al-Sahrawi and his followers split from the AQIM-linked al-Mourabitoun group and pledged allegiance to ISIS—a pledge recognized by ISIS in October 2016. ISGS reportedly includes members of the Peul ethnic group from the Mali-Niger border region. The French government estimates ISGS is responsible for the deaths of 2,000 to 3,000 people in the region. In March 2022 alone, 400 Malian civilians were killed in ISGS attacks.
“The loss of a senior leader is an important albeit temporary setback for ISIS, which tends to replace those killed. French forces should be applauded for their success, but because Operation Barkhane is ending, follow-up military actions may be impossible. The withdrawal of French forces from the region is regretful as ISIS continues to maintain a dominant presence,” said Counter Extremism Project (CEP) Senior Director Dr. Hans-Jakob Schindler, the former coordinator of the U.N. Security Council’s ISIL, Al-Qaida and Taliban Monitoring Team.
Relations between France and Mali have deteriorated in recent years given the Malian regime’s reluctance to transition to civilian rule. In June 2021, France announced that it would end Operation Barkane—its eight-year counterterrorism mission in Burkina Faso, Mali, Chad, Niger, and Mauritania. Of the 5,000 French troops originally deployed to Mali, 2,500 remain as of February 2022.
To read CEP’s resource Oumeya Ould Albakaye, please click here.
To read CEP’s resource Mali: Extremism and Terrorism, please click here.