Longtime Jihadist Leads Group that Claimed Niger Attack – Ibrahim Ahmed

Military, News
mie.jpgFILE – In this frame from video, Myeshia Johnson cries over the casket in Miami, Florida, Oct. 17, 2017, of her husband, Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed in an ambush in Niger.

Not much is known about the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, the group that claimed responsibility for killing four U.S. and four Nigerien soldiers in western Niger last October.

However, the group’s leader, Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, is a well-known figure in regional jihadist circles.

Al-Sahrawi “is a longtime veteran of the West African subregion with deep networks in Mali,” according to Jacob Zenn, fellow of African and Eurasian Affairs for the Jamestown Foundation in Washington and a consultant on countering violent extremism. “He is able to manage groups of multiple ethnicities that engage in both terrorist attacks and criminal activity.”

Al-Sahrawi was once a commander for Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, where he became associated with Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the one-eyed leader of the group.

Later in 2011, al-Sahrawi was one of the extremists who came together to form the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, MUJAO, one of the jihadist groups that seized control of northern Mali for several months in 2012.

In 2015, al-Sahrawi issued a bay’a, or pledge of allegiance, to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the overall leader of the Islamic State militant network.

FILE - This image made from video posted on a militant website July 5, 2014, purports to show the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, delivering a sermon at a mosque in Iraq.
FILE – This image made from video posted on a militant website July 5, 2014, purports to show the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, delivering a sermon at a mosque in Iraq.

According to Zenn, al-Sahrawi still has connections to many of the AQIM sub-groups in Mali because of his experiences. But his loyalty is to the Islamic State.

ISGS operational capacities

On September 1, 2016, ISGS fighters attacked a gendarmerie post in Burkina Faso, just across the border from Niger, where they killed two guards. A month later, ISGS killed three policemen in an attack on a police outpost just a few kilometers from the Malian border in Burkina Faso.

Perhaps the most brazen attack by ISGS before the ambush of the U.S. soldiers at Tongo Tongo was the attempted jailbreak at a high-security prison in Niamey, Niger. The prison held suspected Boko Haram militants and other Islamists from the Sahel and Sahara regions.

Weeks after the attempted jailbreak and more than a year after the pledge of allegiance by al-Sahrawi, IS officially acknowledged the bay’a.

But even with the notoriety that came with killing the American and Nigerien soldiers in October 2017, ISGS has limited capabilities.

Zenn said the group “is able to engage small-scale confrontations with conventional militaries, as well as small-scale asymmetric kidnappings,” but the group has a limited number of fighters. “Perhaps no more than 200,” said Zenn, speaking to VOA last month.

Also, ISGS has no known operational or any other ties to its bigger and more potent Islamist group neighbor, the Islamic State West Africa Province, or the Nigerian militant group Boko Haram, which is also an IS affiliate.

The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara has generally not been able to carry out attacks on hard targets the way AQIM-affiliated groups have in Burkina Faso, Mali and Ivory Coast.

But experts like Zenn believe the group poses a risk to economic targets, like French uranium production sites, and in sparsely populated rural areas.
Niger and its Sahel neighbors formed the military alliance called G5 Sahel to fight ISGS and other extremist groups in the area, while at the same time its military is also fighting Boko Haram along its border with Nigeria and Chad as part of the Lake Chad Multinational Joint Task Force.

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Dozens of bodies found in Raqa mass grave: official

Africa, News

The destroyed Scientific Research Centre is seen in Damascus, Syria 14 April 2018. Photo: REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

QAMISHLI, Syria – Dozens of bodies, including those of jihadists and civilians, have been found in a mass grave in the former Islamic State group stronghold of Raqa in Syria, a local official said on Saturday.

The former de facto “capital” of the group in northern Syria, Raqa saw the jihadists ousted by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in October 2017.

Nearly 50 bodies had already been recovered from the mass grave, which could contain up to 200 bodies, Abdallah al-Eriane, a senior official with Raqa Civil Council now running the city, said,

The mass grave was located under a football pitch, close to a hospital where the jihadists had dug in before being chased out of the city.

“It was apparently the only place available for burials, which were done in haste. The jihadists were holed up in the hospital,” the official said, adding that some bodies were marked with the nom de guerre of the jihadist while civilians just had first names.

In recent months, both Syria and Iraq have discovered mass graves in areas previously occupied by the jihadists.

Syrian troops uncovered a mass grave containing the remains of more than 30 people killed by IS in Raqa province in February.

It followed two other similar finds by the Syrian army.

The Islamic State group, which proclaimed a “caliphate” over swathes of Syria and Iraq in 2014, has now lost almost all the land it once controlled.

It has been held responsible for multiple atrocities during its reign of terror, including mass executions and decapitations.

AFP

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