FRENCH anti-terror forces killed a top member of a powerful African militant group linked to al-Qaeda in Mali last month, France’s Defence Minister Florence Parly said on Tuesday. From their stronghold in Mali, terrorist groups affiliated with al-Qaeda and Islamic State have been able to fan out across the Sahel, destabilising parts of Niger and Burkina Faso.
Moroccan Ali Maychou of the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) was “the second most-wanted terrorist in the Sahel, including by the Americans,” Mme Parly told reporters aboard a government plane as she returned from an official visit to the West African region. Maychou was killed on the evening of October 8 with the help of Malian troops and US support, Mme Parly continued. He joined al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in 2012 before co-founding GSIM with Iyad Ag Ghaly, a 29-year-old Tuareg Malian, and orchestrating its rapid expansion in the fragile Sahel region.
He is the second GSIM leader to have been killed this year after French commandos killed Djamel Okacha in February near Timbuktu.
Okacha was a veteran jihadist accused by Washington of kidnapping a number of Westerners in North and West Africa.
The GSIM has claimed responsibility for a string of deadly attacks in the Sahel since its official launch in 2017.
The news of the jihadist’s death came as Mme Parly attempted to reassure Malians of the support of European counter-terror forces after a bloody attack on an army post in northern Mali left at least 53 soldiers dead last week.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the assault via its Amaq news agency on Saturday, without providing evidence.
The jihadist group has taken responsibility for dozens of attacks in several countries since US special forces killed its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi less than two weeks ago.
Islamic State swiftly named another “caliph”: Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi was announced as the group’s new leader just days after al-Baghdadi’s death.
From their strongholds in Mali, groups affiliated with al-Qaeda and Islamic State have been able to spread out across the Sahel, sowing fear and chaos in parts of Niger and Burkina Faso.
Mali’s military is for its part struggling to suppress the Islamist insurgency despite the help of special forces from France, Africa and the United Nations.
Mali, Mauritania, Chad, Niger and Burkina Faso are part of the G5 Sahel security alliance that has also grappled to keep a lid on the escalating violence in the impoverished region.
The initiative has a joint 5,000-strong anti-terror force, backed by former colonial ruler France.
But the G5 force has been undermined by delays in disbursing the money and lack of coordination between the five countries, while insecurity has spiralled out of control.
In addition to French troops, the UN operates a peacekeeping force of around 15,000 soldiers and police in Mali.
Mme Parly, however, said that France was close to a breakthrough in its attempts to convince its European allies to boost military assistance in the terror-hit region.
The extra funding would likely come in the form of training for national armies.