Malian army says it killed an Islamic State group commander who attacked U.S., Niger forces


BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — A senior Islamic State group commander wanted in connection with the deaths of U.S. forces in Niger was killed in an operation by Malian state forces, the country’s army said.

Abu Huzeifa, known by the alias Higgo, was a commander in the group known as the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara. The State Department had announced a reward of up to $5 million for information about him.

Huzeifa is believed to have helped carry out an attack in 2017 on U.S. and Nigerien forces in Tongo Tongo, Niger, which resulting in the deaths of four Americans and four Nigerien soldiers. Following the attack, the U.S. military scaled back operations with local partners in the Sahel.

“The identification and clues gathered confirm the death of Abu Huzeifa dit Higgo, a foreign terrorist of great renown,” the Malian army said in a statement late Monday.

Moussa Ag Acharatoumane, the leader of a Tuareg armed group allied with the state, said his forces participated in the operation, and that it took place in the northern region of Mali.

A photo of Huzeifa on state television showed him in army fatigues with a long black beard and a machine gun in his hands.

Mali has experienced two coups since 2020 during a wave of political instability that has swept across West and Central Africa. The country has battled a worsening insurgency by jihadi groups linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group for over a decade.

The killing of the Islamic State group commander over the weekend “could mean less violence against civilians in the area, but the threat remains high since for sure there are leaders with similar brutality ready to take over and prove themselves,” said Rida Lyammouri of the Policy Center for the New South, a Morocco-based think tank.

Col. Assimi Goita, who took charge after the second coup in 2021, has vowed to end the insurgency. His ruling junta has cut military ties with France amid growing frustration with a lack of progress after a decade of assistance, and turned to Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group for security support instead.

Mali has also formed a security alliance with Niger and Burkina Faso, which are also battling worsening insurgencies and have also experienced coups in recent years. Although their militaries promised to end the insurgencies after deposing their respective elected governments, conflict analysts say the violence has instead worsened under their regimes. All three nations share borders in the conflict-hit Sahel region and their security forces are overstretched in fighting the jihadi violence.

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