Malian special forces arrested a senior figure from the Ansar Dine jihadist group on Tuesday close to a central military base where he is accused of planning an attack that killed 17 soldiers, reports BSS.
“Today, at around 4:00 pm (1600 GMT) our special forces captured Mahmoud Barry, alias Abou Yehiya,” one of the most senior figures in the group’s branch operating in central Mali, an intelligence officer told reporters.
Other security sources confirmed the arrest, adding that Barry was the “emir” of Ansar Dine’s Macina combat unit and was behind several attacks on Malian security forces since last year.
He is suspected of taking part in last week’s attack on a military base of Nampala, near the border with Mauritania, that left 17 soldiers dead and another 35 wounded, said a security source.
Malian army officers carry the coffin of a soldier killed during an attack on a military base in Nampala claimed by the Ansar Dine jihadist group
The attackers stormed the site, which has been targeted multiple times since January last year, taking control of it for several hours and making off with military vehicles.
The government declared a 10-day state of emergency after what it called a “coordinated terrorist attack”, which was claimed by Ansar Dine and another armed ethnic group. Barry was captured between the military base of Nampala and Dogofri, in the central region of Segou.
“For several days, Mali’s special forces and intelligence services have been searching for the individual in the area,” the security source said.
The intelligence officer said Barry is in the process of being transferred to the capital Bamako. Northern Mali has seen repeated violence since it fell under the control of Tuareg-led rebels who allied with jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda, including Ansar Dine, in 2012.
But attacks are now becoming more frequent in the country’s centre, close to its borders with Burkina Faso and Niger, both from criminal and jihadist elements.
Although Islamists were largely ousted by an ongoing French-led military operation launched in January 2013, sporadic attacks from desert hideouts are common.