BAMAKO (Reuters) - Authorities in Mali have arrested two men believed to be linked to an al Qaeda attack on a beach resort town in neighboring Ivory Coast that killed 19 people earlier this month, military officials said on Sunday.
Gunmen shot swimmers and sunbathers before storming into several hotels in the town of Grand Bassam, 40 km (25 miles) from the commercial capital, Abidjan, on March 13.
“The information concerning the arrests of two suspects in the north of Mali is true,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Modibo Nama Traore, a military intelligence officer who said they had been picked up by gendarmes and the intelligence service.
Ivory Coast announced last week it had detained 15 people in connection with the attack, which was claimed by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Islamist group’s North African branch.
Ivorian officials named the suspected ringleader as Kounta Dallah, but said he remained at large.
While Traore gave no further details of the arrests in Mali, a second intelligence officer said the two men were arrested separately on Saturday and Sunday in the towns of Goundam and Gossi in the northern Timbuktu region.
“One is even Kounta’s driver,” the intelligence officer said, asking not to be identified.
In its claim of responsibility for the Grand Bassam shooting rampage, AQIM said the attack was revenge for France’s military intervention in Mali.
Eleven Ivorians, including three special forces’ soldiers, died in the attack. Four French citizens were killed and other foreign victims included citizens of Germany, Lebanon, Macedonia and Nigeria.
Paris sent troops to its former colony in 2013 to drive out Islamist fighters who seized its desert north a year earlier. The intervention received support from Mali’s regional neighbors, including Ivory Coast, which hosts a French military base.
Despite the successful intervention, violence is again rising in Mali, and militants are increasingly striking farther from their traditional desert strongholds.
In the months before the attack on Grand Bassam, AQIM struck hotels and restaurants in Mali’s capital, Bamako, and neighboring Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, killing dozens of civilians.
Reporting by Adama Diarra and Tiemoko Diallo; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Peter Cooney