Bamako: Mali`s military said on Monday 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.