French troops capture high-ranking Islamic State fighter in Mali

A French soldier patrols during the regional anti-insurgent Operation Barkhane in Tin Hama, Mali.
A French soldier patrols during the regional anti-insurgent Operation Barkhane in Tin Hama, Mali. © REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/File Photo

French forces in Mali have captured a man they describe as a "high-ranking fighter of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara". Dadi Ould Chouaib, also known as Abou Dardar, was arrested on 11 June in the "tri-border" region between Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso.


Dadi Ould Chouaib was carrying "an automatic weapon, a night vision telescope, a combat vest, a telephone and a radio", but surrendered without resistance.

He was located during a helicopter sweep as part of a joint mission between troops from France's Barkhane operation and Nigerien forces.

Niger's army said in a statement late Wednesday that the joint operation, launched on 8 June, had led to a clash Tuesday with "armed terrorists" which left one Nigerien soldier and 12 terrorists dead.

Suspect in Mali market mutilation

Dadi Ould Chouaib was formerly a member of the Al-Qaeda-linked Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), many of whose fighters joined Islamic State in the Greater Sahara".

First arrested in 2014, he was handed over to Malian authorities.

He was one of around 200 jihadist prisoners released in October 2020 in exchange for four hostages, including French aid worker Sophie Petronin.

He is suspected of having been one of the armed men who mutilated three people at a market in Tin Hama in northern Mali on 2 May, cutting off their hands and feet, according to local sources.

Welcome news for Emmanuel Macron

The arrest will come as welcome news for France, after President Emmanuel Macron promised in February to step up efforts to target the commanders of jihadist groups in the Sahel region.

France is the former colonial power in all three "tri-border" countries.

Macron recently announced that France will wind down its 5,100-strong Barkhane force, which has battled jihadists in the Sahel for the past eight years.

The French leader said earlier this month that he sees France's future presence as being part of the so-called Takuba international task force in the Sahel, in which "hundreds" of French soldiers would form the "backbone".

It would mean the closure of French bases and the use of special forces who would be focused on anti-terror operations and military training, he said.

But Macron's plans have fuelled fears that certain areas of the Sahel, in particular northern Mali, will pass completely into the hands of jihadist groups, as local authorities appear unable to restore their grip on the region.

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