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Mali forces kill senior figure in Islamic State affiliate

In this image taken during an official visit organized by the Malian army to the town   -  
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Jerome Delay/AP


A senior Islamic State group commander wanted in connection with the deaths of US forces in Niger was killed in an operation by Malian state forces, the country's military said.

Abu Huzeifa , known under the pseudonym Higgo , was a commander in the group known as the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara . The US State Department had announced a reward of up to $5 million for information concerning him.

Huzeifa is suspected of helping lead a 2017 attack on U.S. and Nigerien forces in Tongo Tongo , Niger , that resulted in the deaths of four Americans and four Nigerien soldiers. Following this attack, the American army reduced its operations with its local partners in the Sahel.

“The identification and evidence collected confirm the death of Abu Huzeifa known as Higgo, a renowned foreign terrorist ,” the Malian army said in a statement late Monday.

Moussa Ag Acharatoumane , leader of a Tuareg armed group allied with the state, said his forces participated in the operation and that it took place in northern Mali .

A photo of Huzeifa broadcast by state television shows him in military fatigues, with a long black beard and a machine gun in his hand.

Mali has experienced two coups since 2020 during a wave of political instability that has swept West and Central Africa. The country has been battling an increasingly serious insurgency led by jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group for more than a decade .

The killing of the Islamic State group's commander over the weekend "could mean less violence against civilians in the region, but the threat remains high as there are certainly leaders with similar brutality ready to take control and to prove themselves," said Rida Lyammouri of the Policy Center for the New South, a Morocco-based think tank.

Colonel Assimi Goita , who took power after the second coup of 2021, has promised to end the insurgency. The ruling junta cut military ties with France due to growing frustration at the lack of progress after a decade of assistance, and turned to Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group for support in security matters.

Mali has also formed a security alliance with Niger and Burkina Faso , which are also battling increasingly serious insurgencies and have also experienced coups in recent years. Although their armies promised to end insurgencies after deposing their respective elected governments, conflict analysts say violence has instead worsened under their regimes. The three countries share borders in the conflict-hit Sahel region, and their security forces are overwhelmed in the fight against jihadist violence.

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