BAMAKO (Reuters) - Police in Mali have detained about 20 suspected Islamist militants in recent days, including at least two French citizens and the organizer of an attack a restaurant in Bamako in March, security sources said on Tuesday.
Police arrested a man identified as Saouty Kouma on Sunday in the central Malian town of Melo whom they suspect was behind the assault on La Terrasse restaurant that killed a French citizen, a Belgian security officer and three Malians. The attack was claimed by Islamist militant group al-Mourabitoun.
The remaining men were detained on Monday in the southern town of Zegoua after crossing over from neighboring Ivory Coast. They were transported to the capital Bamako on Tuesday for questioning, the sources said.
One of the security sources said that most of the men detained on Monday were from Mauritania, with the remainder Malians and French.
“They are 20 presumed jihadists, including two French,” said a second source. “They are all Islamists, all bearded.”
The men were arrested in connection with two members of Islamist group Ansar Dine who were captured by the army in central Mali last week, along with evidence linking them to planned attacks.
No further details were immediately available. A French Embassy spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
Ansar Dine was part of an alliance of Islamist fighters that seized Mali’s desert north after a Tuareg uprising in 2012 but was ousted by a French military operation a year later.
The group claimed responsibility last week for a series of recent attacks across Mali’s south and west, including in Bamako, which was previously deemed safe from such violence.
Armed separatist groups and the Malian government signed a peace agreement in June designed to stop uprisings in the north, but Ansar Dine was not a signatory.
Reporting by Tiemoko Diarra and Adama Diarra, Writing by Daniel Flynn, Editing by G Crosse and Ken Wills