PARIS – French forces in Mali have captured a man they describe as a “high-ranking fighter of the Islamic State of the Great Sahara” (EIGS), the French army said on Wednesday.
Dadi Ould Chouaib, also known as Abu Dardar, was arrested on June 11 in the “three border” region between Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, a site of frequent attacks by extremist groups, said the army in a press release.
He carried “an automatic weapon, a night vision telescope, a combat vest, a telephone and a radio”, but surrendered without resistance.
It was located during a helicopter sweep as part of a joint mission between the troops of the French Operation Barkhane and the Nigerien forces.
The Nigerien army said in a statement Wednesday evening that the joint operation, launched on June 8, led Tuesday to a clash with “armed terrorists” which left a Nigerien dead and “12 terrorists neutralized”.
The term “neutralized” means “killed” in West African military contexts.
Dardar was previously a member of the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) linked to al-Qaeda, many of whose fighters had joined EIGS.
Arrested for the first time in 2014, he was handed over to the Malian authorities.
But he was one of some 200 prisoners released in October 2020 in exchange for four hostages, including French humanitarian aid Sophie Petronin.
Dardar is believed to have been one of the gunmen who mutilated three people at a market in Tin Hama, northern Mali, on May 2, cutting off their hands and feet, according to local sources.
According to the United Nations mission in Mali, MINUSMA, the gunmen were suspected of belonging to EIGS.
Dardar’s arrest will be good news for France, after President Emmanuel Macron pledged in February to step up efforts to “behead” extremist groups in the Sahel region.
France, a former colonial power in the three “three-border” countries, is pursuing a strategy aimed at targeting the leaders of militant groups.
Its military presence in the semi-arid Sahel, Operation Barkhane, recently called for the elimination of a high-ranking fighter from the al-Qaeda group in the Islamic Maghreb, an adversary of the EIGS in the region.
Baye Ag Bakabo is responsible for the kidnapping and death of two French RFI journalists, Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon, killed in northern Mali in 2013.
Macron recently announced that France would end its 5,100-man Barkhane force, which has been fighting extremist groups in the Sahel for eight years.
He said earlier this month that he viewed France’s future presence as part of the so-called Takuba international intervention force in the Sahel, in which “hundreds” of French soldiers would form the “backbone. “.
This would mean the closure of French bases and the use of special forces that would focus on counterterrorism operations and military training, he said.
But Macron’s plans have fueled fears that parts of the Sahel, particularly northern Mali, could fall completely into the hands of extremist groups, with local authorities appearing unable to regain their grip on the region.