Bamako: Malian special forces killed a suspect Friday in last week`s deadly jihadist attack on a nightclub in the capital, officials said, dramatically igniting a probe which had shown little progress.
Bamako has been on high alert since a heavily armed gunman burst into La Terrasse, a popular venue among expatriates, on Saturday and killed five people, including a French national, a Belgian and three locals.
"During an operation launched on Friday, one of the perpetrators of the terrorist crime last Saturday was killed. He did not want to surrender," a senior special forces commander told AFP.
"We located the individual in a working class district of Bamako. He is from the north. He had shaved his head," said another special forces source who told AFP he had taken part in the operation.
He added that the suspect appeared to be a member of one of the region`s light-skinned minority groups, which includes the Tuareg and Arab populations.
"He is one of Saturday`s attackers. He was the one who launched a grenade from his motorbike into the street outside the La Terrasse restaurant-bar," he said.
Around a dozen people were arrested, security sources said, while three special forces personnel were slightly wounded.
The operation marked a dramatic twist almost a week after the attack, in which eight people -- two of them Swiss nationals -- were wounded.Sources have spoken of a number of leads, including clues on the getaway vehicle and its driver, but investigators had made no announcements of substantial progress in the hunt for the killers before Friday`s operation.
The streets around the two-storey building where the raid took place were blocked off to traffic as curious bystanders gathered in small groups and police surrounded the neighbourhood on Friday morning.
Jean Salif Tigana, a ground floor resident, said he was roused by noises upstairs in the middle of the night.
Thinking at first that someone was at the door, he went outside and saw police in the streets and heard explosions, he said.
Officers found an identity card on the dead suspect purporting to belong to a man in his early 20s born in the village of Moudakane, near Gao, northern Mali`s largest city, sources told AFP.
Al-Murabitoun, a jihadist group run by leading Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar, has claimed responsibility for the nightclub assault.
The group said it had struck partly to avenge Ahmed el Tilemsi, one of its commanders killed by the French army in Mali in December.
But it added that the attack was mainly a response to recent cartoons of the Muslim prophet Mohammed, "whom the miscreant West insulted and mocked."
The group was referring to images published by Paris satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which saw 12 people killed at its offices by two Islamist brothers, part of three days of jihadist attacks in Paris that left 17 people dead overall.
Counter-terrorism teams from Paris and Belgium have been involved in the investigation, backed by police from MINUSMA, the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali.
The focus has been on a dozen terrorist groups and individuals, according to sources close to the case, including a Russian and Malian dual national who has not been located, and the alleged driver, whom sources say is disabled.The attack was the first to target Westerners in Bamako, but Mali`s vast desert north is riven by ethnic rivalries and an Islamist insurgency, and has seen numerous militant attacks on security forces.
Fears over security mounted further on Sunday when a Chadian peacekeeper and two Malian children were killed when militants shelled a UN base in the northeastern rebel stronghold of Kidal.
Jihadists linked to Al-Qaeda controlled an area of desert the size of Texas for more than nine months until a French-led military intervention in 2013 that drove them from key towns in the region.
Mali`s Tuareg-led rebels are in meetings in Kidal to decide whether to sign a peace deal already accepted by the government and smaller armed groups.
Between 150 and 200 mainly Tuareg figures from across the north -- as well as Mauritania, Niger, Libya and Algeria -- are taking part in the talks, expected to last until at least Saturday.
The meeting began four days after UN chief Ban Ki-moon urged the main rebel alliance -- known as the Coordination -- to sign a peace deal penned in Algeria on March 1.
The Malian government signed the agreement, along with some northern pro-Bamako armed groups, but the rebels have asked for more time.
A Malian diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity told AFP this week that the rebels are under pressure from European states to join the peace deal.