French troops deployed in Mali have arrested a key suspect in a deadly beach attack in Ivory Coast that left 19 people dead last year, Malian security sources said Thursday.
The French military confirmed its troops had carried out an arrest on Monday.
“French troops ... arrested a mastermind of the attack on Grand Bassam,” a Malian security source said.
On 13 March last year, three assailants armed with grenades and assault rifles stormed three hotels in Grand Bassam, a beachside resort popular with foreigners 40 kilometres (25 miles) from Abidjan.
The attack, the first of its kind in the Ivory Coast, was claimed by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which has also carried out assaults on tourist hotspots in Mali and Burkina Faso.
The arrest took place in the village of Gossi near Gao, the main city in northern Mali—the cradle of several uprisings and a sanctuary for Islamist fighters.
Another Malian security source said the suspect, named Mimi Ould Baba Ould Cheikh, was “well known in northern Mali”.
“French troops are interrogating him, and we are waiting for them to hand him over,” he said.
“We’ve been watching him for several months. He went to Algeria at one point. He returned to Gao and then set himself up in Gossi. He’s the one who mobilised the men and the means, and drew up the plan to attack Grand Bassam,” the source said.
French military spokesman Patrik Steiger confirmed the arrest.
“I confirm that four individuals were captured in the Gossi area last Monday, one of whom may have been linked to the Grand Bassam attacks,” he said.
“The exact nature of the link has not yet been confirmed,” he added.
Ivory Coast’s interior ministry also confirmed the arrest in a statement, adding that its forces had worked with Mali and France to help secure the detention.
More than a dozen people have been arrested in relation to the Grand Bassam attack.
The brain of the operation, Kounta Dallah, is still at large.