The alleged mastermind of a deadly March 2016 attack on an Ivory Coast resort has been arrested in neighbouring Mali in a joint operation coordinated by French special forces, according to Ivorian sources.
Mimi Ould Baba Ould El Mokhtar -- also known as Mimi Ould Baba Ould Cheikh – was arrested near the town of Gossi in northern Mali earlier this month, Ivorian security sources told FRANCE 24’s sister radio station, RFI, on Thursday.
The raid was coordinated by Operation Barkhane, a French-led security operation covering the Sahel region, which includes Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
Reporting from Mali Thursday, FRANCE 24-RFI correspondent Serge Daniel said the suspect was identified and his movements traced across national borders. “His comings and goings were monitored before his arrest. He had made a stop in Algeria, the Malian secret services followed his traces and they alerted the French army, which sent units to the site to apprehend the individual,” said Daniel.
Mokhtar is being held by French special forces in Mali, he added.
The March 13 attack in the Ivorian resort town of Grand Bassam – which killed 22 people, including three Ivorian security officials – was claimed by al Qaeda’s North African branches AQIM (al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) and al Mourabitoun, a jihadist faction under the al Qaeda umbrella.
Mokhtar allegedly supervised the Grand Bassam attack, including organising the transport of militants and arms from Mali to Ivory Coast, according to Ivorian security sources.
The arrest followed months of painstaking investigations, which involved establishing the organisational chart of the jihadist groups, identifying the attackers and planners, and then tracing suspects across porous borders in the vast, inhospitable terrain that makes up the Sahel.
There have been at least three arrests in Mali of suspects linked to the Grand Bassam attack, the first of its kind in the cocoa-rich West African nation.
Security tightened for Africa-France summit
News of the latest arrest came as representatives from about 40 African nations are set to meet Friday in Mali for the Africa-France summit. Security has been tightened in the Malian capital of Bamako with thousands of troops, including special anti-terror units, deployed to provide additional security, according to Malian officials.
A spate of jihadist attacks in the Sahel over the past few years -- including the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako and the Splendid Hotel in Burkina Faso – has highlighted the precarious security situation in the region.
In Mali, a 2012 rebellion by ethnic Tuaregs saw the entire northern Malian region fall to a motley mix of jihadist groups, including al Qaeda branches in the region.
A year later, a French military operation succeeded in wresting control of northern Mali. But there have been numerous attacks and kidnappings even as a 13,000-strong UN force attempts to secure the region.