Abu Huzeifa’s Elimination and The Sahel’s Terrorism Threat Scenario

Abu Huzeifa's elimination in Sahel
The map of the Sahel (Credits: JRC, European Commission, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 42 Issue 1
Author: Christian Tratzi

Malian Armed Forces conducted a joint military operation with Burkina Faso, and Niger which successfully eliminated Abu Huzeifa (Higgo al-Maghrebi), a high-ranking commander of the Islamic State in the Sahel Province (ISSP) also known as the Islamic State Greater Sahara (ISGS).

Conducted in the Ménaka region of northeastern Mali, the operation served as a powerful symbol of the relentless efforts being made to combat terrorism in the region.

Instability and violence have long plagued the Sahel region, with various factors at play. The rise of jihadist groups, including the Islamic State, has added a layer of security challenges in Africa. The killing of an Islamic State military leader poses significant geopolitical and international security issues.

Abu Huzeifa’s Elimination: Background Information

Abu Huzeifa emerged as a prominent figure within the jihadist landscape in Africa, particularly in the Sahel region. Active also in the Western Sahara area and in Algeria, specifically in the province of Tindouf, he had acquired a prominent role within the ranks of the Islamic State and had taken part in various operations and terrorist attacks targeting both civilians and military objectives.

His involvement in the Tongo Tongo attack in 2017, which resulted in the deaths of four U.S. soldiers and four Nigerien soldiers, prompted the United States to place a $5 million bounty on his head. Abu Huzeifa’s elimination represents a significant blow to ISSP and a notable success for counterterrorism in the Sahel, especially considering his relevance, but it does not represent a complete victory.

The military operation conducted by the Malian army, with the support of Burkina Faso and Niger, occurred in the Ménaka region of Mali, right on the border with Niger and near Burkina Faso. In recent times, the area has experienced significant geopolitical instability because of numerous attacks conducted by the Islamic State against civilians and local institutional and military targets, turning it into one area of greatest interest for Islamic State propaganda.

The operation’s accomplishment was largely because of the cooperation among the countries involved, and the elimination of Abu Huzeifa during a ground operation serves as evidence of the effectiveness of intelligence sharing and coordinated military action in targeting high-priority terrorist individuals.

The jihadist threat remains high, and while the elimination of Abu Huzeifa may represent a symbolic victory, it may not lead to a significant reduction in terrorist activities in the Sahel, mainly contemplating that jihadist groups often exhibit resilience and adaptability in the face of leadership losses.

The ability of ISSP to reorganise and maintain its activities with new leadership is a source of concern, given the leadership structure and potential successors, especially when considering the Islamic State’s territorial gains, operations, and regional interests.

The operation’s success provides a morale boost for the military government in Mali, which may seek to leverage this achievement to strengthen its legitimacy and justify its continued stay in power. However, the broader implications of military intervention in governance and the erosion of democratic norms raise questions about the long-term stability and democratic governance in the country.


Although the elimination of Abu Huzeifa may disrupt ISSP’s operational capabilities in the short term, it is important to consider how the group has demonstrated its ability, especially in Africa, to quickly adapt to human and territorial losses and to replace the military leadership of its respective provinces.

The underlying drivers of extremism, including governance failures, socio-economic marginalisation, and ethnic tensions, remain unaddressed. The Sahel region continues to face multiple security challenges, including jihadist insurgency, intercommunal violence, and organised crime, which require comprehensive and coordinated responses from national governments and international partners.

Jihadist action continues to be one of the major threats to the region, and the operation’s success underscores the significance of regional cooperation and coordination in addressing the transnational menace posed by jihadist groups. This shows the importance of ongoing collaboration on intelligence sharing, border security, and counter-terrorism efforts to effectively combat the spread of extremism across porous borders.

However, political instability in most countries provides fertile ground for the recruitment and radicalisation of vulnerable populations by jihadist groups, which is why it remains essential to promote inclusive governance, foster economic development, and address grievances. These efforts are essential for long-term stability and resilience against terrorism, also through the support of international actors.


Following military operations, especially those that resulted in the deaths of significant figures, the Islamic State has historically reacted by conducting attacks. Therefore, in the coming weeks, the region could register a rise in attacks by ISSP on civilians and particularly on institutional targets. This will serve as a show of their power and dominance, and will also highlight the potential of their new military leadership.

Considering the strength and high operational capability of the Islamic State, which has numerous militants in the Sahel, it will require an international effort to mitigate and reduce the risk, avoiding a military escalation in an already highly unstable region.

The increase in violence can cause humanitarian crises that may affect neighbouring areas and even touch upon the interests of the forces engaged in the region. Where the increase in crisis situations has resulted in violence, there has been an increase in terrorist activity. The rise in terrorism can directly affect European interests, considering the migratory routes connecting Africa to the continent, expanding the range of the threat.

The propaganda of the Islamic State emphasises the importance of its African provinces and consistently promotes attacks on the West. This messaging resonates with militants involved in violent situations in Africa, some of whom may consider targeting Europe.

In a scenario of increased military confrontation, the Islamic State could enhance its propaganda by highlighting the suffering of Muslims in Africa (a theme often invoked by the Islamic State), launching new recruitment campaigns, and calling for action against the West.


The elimination of Abu Huzeifa represents a significant success in the ongoing fight against terrorism in the Sahel region, underscoring the importance of regional cooperation and coordinated counter-terrorism efforts.

However, the broader security challenges facing the Sahel, including governance failures, socio-economic inequalities, and intercommunal conflicts, require comprehensive and sustained responses from national governments and international partners.

Addressing the root causes of extremism, promoting inclusive governance, and strengthening regional cooperation are essential for building resilience against terrorism and fostering long-term stability in the Sahel.

Similarly, it is crucial to counter the propaganda of the Islamic State in the region and to try to prevent possible retaliatory actions by the group in response to the killing of one of its military leaders.

Read also | Sahel: Geopolitics of Jihadist Groups’ Activities and Regional Security

For further information, reports, and risk assessments about terrorism and security in the Sahel region, contact us at info@specialeurasia.com.

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