Mali frees 'cocaine plane' suspect

2012-01-23 21:41

Bamako - A Malian businessman implicated in trafficking after a cocaine-laden plane landed in the country's north in 2009 has been freed, his family and an official said on Monday.

"Mohamed Ould Awainatt was freed on Thursday, he is now a free man," relative Moussa Ould Madji told AFP. A justice ministry source confirmed the information but would not elaborate on the reasons behind his release.

Awainatt was arrested in June 2011 along with a Frenchman and a Spaniard and charged with international trafficking in cocaine.

Early in November 2009, a Boeing 727 coming from Venezuela and carrying "cocaine and other illicit products" according to the UN Office On Drugs and Crime, landed in the northern desert region of Gao. After unloading their cargo, the traffickers set fire to the aircraft.

Several people have been arrested in connection with the case including a French pilot suspected of being involved in several drug trafficking incidents.

Awainatt, who belongs to Mali's Arab community, is considered one of the main suspects in the case.

The bi-weekly newspaper "22 Septembre" said he was freed "following a demand from a group of young Arabs" who had been called upon to assist the army in fighting off Tuareg rebels who have launched an offensive in northern Mali.

The nomadic Tuareg seek autonomy and have launched a fresh offensive following a ceasefire in 2009, after many of them returned armed from fighting in Libya's conflict. They attacked three towns last week.