France says its military has killed the leader of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, who has been blamed for personally ordering the killing of six French charity workers and their driver in 2020, and who has been wanted by the United States for a 2017 attack on its troops in Niger.
Sahrawi was "neutralised by French forces", President Emmanuel Macron tweeted early Thursday, without giving the location of the operation.
Defence Minister Florence Parly said Sahrawi died following a strike by France's Barkhane force, which has been fighting Islamic extremists in the Sahel.
Rumours of the Sahrawi's death had been circulating in Mali for weeks, with no confirmation from authorities. Macron's announcement has not been independently verified, nor have details been provided about how the jihadist's remains were identified.
Personally ordered killings
In 2015 Sahrawi formed the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, Isgs, which is blamed for most of the jihadist attacks in the "tri-border" area between Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.
A former member of Western Sahara's Polisario Front independence movement, Sahrawi joined Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and had also co-led a Malian Islamist group responsible for kidnapping Spanish aid workers in Algeria and a group of Algerian diplomats in Mali in 2012.
The group has launched attacks targeted military and civilians in "tri-border" area.
Macron's office said that Sahrawi personally ordered the killing of six French charity workers and their Nigerien driver on 9 August 2020.
The US had offered a $5-million reward (4.2 million euros) for information on Sahrawi, who claimed responsibility for a 2017 attack in Niger that killed four US special forces and four Nigerian troops.
Fight against 'terrorist groups'
"This is another major success in our fight against terrorist groups in the Sahel," Macron said.
Adnan Abou Walid al Sahraoui, chef du groupe terroriste État islamique au Grand Sahara a été neutralisé par les forces françaises. Il s'agit d'un nouveau succès majeur dans le combat que nous menons contre les groupes terroristes au Sahel. - Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) September 15, 2021
The French military has killed several high-ranking members of Isgs, under its strategy of targeting jihadist leaders. France has been fighting jihadists in the Sahel since 2013, after it intervened in northern Mali, following a jihadist takeover.
In June Macron announced a massive withdrawal of troops from of France's anti-jihadist Barkhane force, to refocus on counter-terrorism operations and supporting local forces.