Mali has freed at least two jihadists from the Sahel affiliate of the Islamic State group in a prisoner exchange, a security official and two politicians told AFP on Saturday.
The Sahel country’s military had in recent days released Oumeya Ould Albakaye and Dadi Ould Cheghoub, both members of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), flying them from Bamako to the Gao region in the north, the security official said.
One of the politicians, an elected official in Gao, said that at least three jihadists were brought there on a military plane from Bamako.
All three sources said the operation was part of a prisoner exchange.
A fourth person, another security official, would not go so far but said a “gesture” was made “to protect the lives of our compatriots in mortal danger”. He did not provide details.
Albakaye, an explosives expert, was captured by French forces in June 2022, before France withdrew its troops last year.
A security source who asked not to be named told AFP at the time that he had once been seen as a potential successor to former ISGS leader Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, who was killed by French forces in August 2021.
A regional chief commanding the areas of Gourma in Mali and Oudalan in neighboring Burkina Faso, he was responsible for a large number of abuses against civilians in those countries, the military said last year.
Mali has been battling a security crisis since jihadist and separatist insurgencies broke out in the north in 2012.
Anger at the government’s failure to stem the violence helped spark two coups in 2020 and 2021. The ruling junta has broken ties with traditional ally France and turned towards Russia.