November 16, 2015 / 2:52 PM / 4 years ago

Mali army says arrests Islamist militant figure

Malian soldiers point their AK-47 rifles during a training session given by a French army officer in Koulikoro May 7, 2013. REUTERS/Emilie Regnier

BAMAKO (Reuters) - Mali’s army has arrested Alaye Bocari, a leading financial backer of an Islamist militant group responsible for an expansion of deadly attacks in the West African nation, military and defence sources said on Monday.

The attacks carried out by the Massina Liberation Front (MLF), led by radical preacher and jihadist Amadou Koufa, have helped shift Mali’s three-year-old Islamist conflict from the remote desert north ever closer to its populous south.

Bocari is among Koufa’s close collaborators according to intelligence gathered by the military, said army spokesman Colonel Souleymane Maiga.

“He was arrested on November 13 in the region of Mopti by an army patrol acting on information given by the population,” he said.

The arrest, one of around 30 carried out so far during an army operation launched late last month, was confirmed by a defence ministry spokesman who declined to give further details.

France launched a military intervention in its former colony in 2013 to drive back Islamist militants who seized the north a year earlier creating what Paris feared could become a base for attacks on Europe. The operation drove the fighters from major population centres.

Attacks mainly targeting Malian soldiers and U.N. peacekeepers persist however, and the military action made French interests the declared targets of groups including al Qaeda’s regional franchise.

Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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