Higo al-Magribi: ISGS Tongo Tongo Ambush Commander Confirmed Dead in Mali

Publication: Militant Leadership Monitor Volume: 15 Issue: 5

Senegalese and Malian soldiers train with U.S. special forces in Mali. (Source: U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa)

Executive Summary:

  • Prominent Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISGS) commander Higo al-Maghribi was killed in Mali on May 29. He was primarily known for helping lead the Tongo Tongo ambush in 2017, the deadliest attack on U.S. forces in Africa since the 1993 “Battle of Mogadishu.”
  • Al-Maghribi was one of the most visible leaders of ISGS. With his death, only one of the three leaders of the Tongo Tongo attack remains at large, Ibrahim Ousmane.

On May 29, Higo al-Maghribi (alias Abu Huzeifa), the longtime face of Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISGS), was killed in Mali by the country’s security forces. The operation that killed al-Maghribi might have been conducted with the assistance of local Tuareg forces (AP News, April 30). In terms of the deaths of top ISGS figures, this was one of the most important successes since the now-removed French forces eliminated Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi in 2021 (Africa News, September 18, 2021).

While al-Sahrawi was the more prominent figure of the two, al-Magribi was more frequently seen than nearly any other ISGS militant in the group’s propaganda. Al-Magribi maintained a distinct look. Wearing an unusually long and wide beard and sports goggles, and usually seen holding a captured rifle from U.S. special forces, al-Maghribi was an easily identifiable figure. The rifle and goggles were “trophies” from al-Magribi’s participation in the notorious ambush of U.S. special forces and a Malian unit on a joint patrol in Tongo Tongo, Niger. In the attack, ISGS killed four U.S. service members (Jeune Afrique, November 2, 2017). ISGS’s successful ambush led to the capture of both U.S. weapons and U.S. force’s helmet cameras, which provided recordings that were used by ISGS in subsequent propaganda videos.

Al-Magribi participated in many more operations than just the Tongo Tongo ambush, however. This included the killings of rival JNIM fighters in August 2020. In one photograph released by ISGS, al-Magribi—as easily identified as ever—was seen beheading a JNIM fighter while ISGS fighters in motorcycles watched over him (X/@calibreobscura, September 18, 2020).

Similarly, in late 2019 al-Magribi participated in the major ISGS attack on the Malian military base in Indelimane which killed more than 50 Malian soldiers (Al Jazeera, December 3, 2019). Al-Magribi was seen in photos riding on a motorcycle, flanked by the IS flag on one side and another fighter on the other. More fighters preparing for the attack against Indelimane could be seen as well (x/@menastream, November 19, 2019). This video was designed to display that al-Magribi was both a key operational and propaganda figure for ISGS.

The Tongo Tongo ambush was not ISGS’s largest attack, though it appears to be the one al-Magribi was most proud of, and likely had the most international impact of any of his other activities. With the deaths of al-Sahrawi and al-Magribi, of the Tongo Tongo commanders, only Ibrahim Ousmane (alias Dandou Cheffou) remains at large. The United States has a $5 million reward out for Ousmane, and given the chance, there is no question that Washington would push the Malian army and its auxiliaries to eliminate Ousmane (U.S. Department of State, accessed June 2).