Mali claims killing extremist linked to 2017 deaths of US troops

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BAMAKO, Mali — A senior Islamic State group commander wanted in connection with one of the deadliest attacks on U.S. forces in Africa was killed in an operation by Mali’s security 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 the 2017 assault on U.S. and Nigerien forces in Tongo Tongo, Niger. Four Americans and four Nigerien soldiers were killed.

Following the attack, the U.S. military scaled back operations with local partners in the vast Sahel region south of the Sahara desert.

“The identification and clues gathered confirm the death of Abu Huzeifa or 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 Mali’s north.

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

The killing of the 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 in Mali after the second coup in 2021, has vowed to end the insurgency. The 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 neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso, which also battle worsening insurgencies and have experienced coups in recent years. Conflict analysts say the violence has worsened under their regimes. Their security forces are overstretched in fighting the jihadi violence.

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