Nigerien forces have arrested a man they believe to be Doundoun Cheffou, a high-ranking Islamic extremist who four U.S. soldiers were trying to track down when they were killed in an ambush last year, according to a report.
Nigerien soldiers cuffed someone who matches the physical description of Cheffou during an army patrol near the Mali border about two weeks ago, Col. Maj. Moussa Salaou Barmou, the head of the Nigerien Special Forces, told The New York Times.
The Oct. 4 ambush has been the subject of much controversy, as questions continue to swirl about how big of a role American Special Forces play in foreign countries. An investigation into the Niger ambush is ongoing, and a string of questions about what the U.S. soldiers were doing there remain unanswered.
The man believed to be Cheffou is currently being interrogated by Nigerien agents in the country’s capital, Niamey, according to Barmou.
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“They are the ones still conducting the investigation and trying to identify this guy,” Barmou said.
Barmou added that his command has been tracking Cheffou for months.
“We know the general area where he goes,” Barmou said. “Somebody told us he was in this area, and probably you should conduct a patrol and get him.”
It was not immediately clear if U.S. forces played any part in the arrest. A Pentagon spokeswoman declined to comment.
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Cheffou, who used to be a senior lieutenant of an Al Qaeda faction, is believed to be the senior commander of a particularly violent ISIS offshoot responsible for dozens of attacks in the region.
The four U.S. soldiers killed in the ambush chased Cheffou after intelligence officials intercepted a cellphone signal from him last fall.
U.S. special forces in Niger are only supposed to assist and advise local soldiers and it remains unknown why Sgts. La David Johnson, Bryan Black, Jeremiah Johnson and Dustin Wright ended up in the line of fire on Oct. 4.
President Trump drew outrage after he told the widow of Sgt. Johnson that her husband knew “what he had signed up for.”
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Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), who listened in on Trump’s off-color condolence call to Myeisha Johnson, took little solace in Cheffou’s likely arrest.
“This latest report doesn’t help me or my constituents understand what happened to Sgt. Johnson or why was he in Niger without the proper training,” Wilson told the Daily News in a statement. “Nor does it explain how he was separated from the other members of his unit who also were killed in the ambush, why his body was not recovered for two days, and how he ended up a mile from the attack site…It is very suspect that they want to talk about everything except those specific questions and we will not be satisfied or stop asking until we get the answers.”
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