Mali’s military said it had arrested three suspected members of a new Islamist militant group who it claims were behind a series of recent armed attacks on security forces in and around the capital Bamako.
The Massina Liberation Front (MLF), led by veteran jihadist Amadou Koufa, has been blamed for a wave of attacks bringing Mali’s three-year-old Islamist conflict from the remote desert north ever closer to its populous south.
“Three terrorists, all belonging to Amadou Koufa’s group, were arrested by the special forces in the night from Saturday to Sunday,” said Modibo Naman Traore of the army’s public relations office.
An army statement identified the men as Hassan Dicko, described as Koufa’s number two, and Ali Sangare, a taxi driver.
Ayouba Sangare, an Ivorian, was responsible for the cell’s logistics and authorities discovered large quantities of weapons, ammunition and grenades during a search of his house, according to the statement.
The army said the cell was behind attacks on the lodgings of personnel from Mali’s U.N. peacekeeping mission, MINUSMA, and a police post in Bamako, as well as a gendarme base in Baguineda just outside the capital.
Islamist fighters, some with links to al Qaeda, seized the northern two-thirds of Mali in 2012. A French-led military intervention scattered them the following year, but remnants of the insurgency continue to carry out attacks.
The MLF recruits mainly among central Mali’s marginalised Fulani ethnic minority. Security experts fear that the rise of a jihadist group among the Fulani, whose 20 million members are spread across West and Central Africa, could regionalise the violence.