Oumeya Ould Albakaye, the head of the Islamic State in the two provinces of Mali and Burkina Faso, was captured during an overnight operation this week.
French forces operating on the Mali-Niger border have arrested a high-ranking figure from the armed group Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISGS), authorities in Paris have said.
In a statement released Wednesday, the French armed forces ministry said that Oumeya Ould Albakaye was captured overnight from June 11 to 12 by Operation Barkhane — a French military operation deployed in the Sahel region since 2013.
The military action that began weeks ago involved air forces and a ground unit, the statement said. The military added that several cell phones and weapons were seized.
Albakaye was the leader of the ISGS, a group affiliated with the ISIL (ISIS) group, in the provinces of Gourma and Oudalan, two areas in Mali and Burkina Faso respectively. The French army said he was also responsible for coordinating a network that deploys explosives.
ISGS was founded in 2015 by Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, who was assassinated last September.
Mali has been ravaged by violence for a decade, especially in the region bordering Niger and Burkina Faso. In 2013, France intervened to stamp out an uprising in the north. But the rebels regrouped to attack the unstable center of the country, unleashing a fierce insurgency that failed to stop President-elect Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
In August 2020, protests against Keita culminated in a coup by disgruntled colonels in the Malian army — a move followed by a second military takeover in May 2021.
From then on, relations with France steadily declined, propelled by military resistance to set an early date to restore civilian rule and by Bamako’s accusations that France urged regional neighbors to crack down on its military rule. .
Things worsened in 2021 as the Malian military forged closer ties with Moscow, recruiting “military instructors” whom France and its allies called mercenaries of the pro-Kremlin Wagner group.
In January this year, the French ambassador to Bamako was expelled from the country and the following month France announced the withdrawal of its troops from Mali and those of the French-led Takuba troops.
While the military initially pledged to return power to civilians by February 2022, it moved the date on Monday to March 24 — a move not welcomed by regional actor ECOWAS, which has imposed sanctions on Mali.