Three new arrests over deadly Mali hotel siege

o-WOMEN-JAIL-facebookSecurity forces in Mali have arrested three more suspects over a deadly siege at a hotel in the centre of the country, a security official said Thursday.

“Three new arrests… were made by our services overnight in the Mopti region,” the source told AFP from San, more than 200 kilometres (120 miles) south of the central town of Sevare where the assault took place.

The government has already reported the arrest of seven people over Friday’s raid in Sevare that led to a hostage drama for almost 24 hours before Malian troops finally stormed the Byblos hotel.

Four foreign employees of the UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) were killed, along with a Malian civilian driver, four “terrorists” and four soldiers, according to the government, which blamed the attack on Islamist militants.

The authorities have not said how many jihadists are believed to have taken part in the attack, but investigators found evidence linking them to a new extremist group called the Macina Liberation Front.

The three new suspects all support Malian radical Islamic preacher Amadou Koufa, the security source said.

Koufa is close to Souleyman Mohamed Kennen, who claimed responsibility for the attack in a brief phone conversation with AFP.

One of the suspects seized overnight was carrying a map of Sevare marked in black at the location of the hotel, the source added.

“The hand of Allah has guided the mujahedeen of Sevare against the enemies of Islam,” Kennen said, adding that Koufa had given his “blessing” to the attack.

He also claimed that “muhajedeen” fighters were behind the killing of three Malian soldiers on Monday in the Mopti region near Sevare.

In 2012, Kennen was part of the Malian wing of fighters led by notorious Algerian jihadist chief, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a founder member of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), who now heads his own group.

Northern Mali was then under the control of jihadist movements linked to Al-Qaeda and ethnic Tuareg rebel forces. The main towns in the desert territory were recaptured from the extremists with the help of French and African Union troops in 2013.

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