Mali arrests fugitive Algerian Islamist

2014-09-13 08:33

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Bamako - A suspected lieutenant of al-Qaeda-linked Algerian jihadist commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar has been arrested in northern Mali, security sources said on Friday.

Rebel groups in the northeastern separatist stronghold of Kidal arrested Meherig Jafar before handing him over to the authorities via the French army, a source from the United Nations peacekeeping mission told AFP.

A Malian police source described Jafar as a "big fish" who was wanted in his home country of Algeria.

The source said the Islamist had been found with letters calling for jihad and pictures showing him alongside Belmokhtar.

"We came to the conclusion that, even though he's refusing to talk at the moment, he is a lieutenant of the jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar," he said.

Belmokhtar was a leader of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which, along with other armed Islamist groups, took advantage of a military coup in 2012 to occupy northern Mali before being driven out by French and African troops.

The one-eyed Islamist split from AQIM in 2013 to form his own group, the Signatories in Blood, and masterminded a deadly raid against Algeria's In Amenas gas plant in which 38 hostages were killed in a four-day siege.

He was thought to have been killed in Mali, but security sources told AFP in April he had moved into Libya and remained active.

France called Tuesday for the international community to act in Libya, amid growing fears the country is becoming a major "terrorist hub" on Europe's doorstep.

The Bamako government and six rebel groups, mostly Tuareg but also including Arab organisations, are seeking to resolve a decades-old conflict that created a power vacuum in the desert north.

Since President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita came to power last year negotiations have stalled, however, and northern Mali has seen a spike in violence by Islamist and separatist militants.

A ceasefire has been in force since May when the rebels seized a large swathe of northern Mali in a major offensive.

A second round of negotiations opened on 1 September in Algeria, aimed at clinching a lasting peace agreement.

Read more on:    mali  |  west africa

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