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Men Wearing Explosives Arrested in Mali

  • VOA News

Malian soldiers stand by a motorcycle used by a suicide bomber at the entrance of Gao, northern Mali, Feb. 8, 2013.

Malian soldiers stand by a motorcycle used by a suicide bomber at the entrance of Gao, northern Mali, Feb. 8, 2013.

Malian officials say two men who were allegedly wearing explosives were arrested near Gao on Saturday, a day after a suicide bomber attacked a military checkpoint near the northern city.

A Malian military spokesman and witnesses say the two men were detained on a road that leads into Gao.

Malian troops bolstered security after Friday's attack. A local journalist said the bombing occurred less than 10 meters from the military checkpoint.

The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) claimed responsibility for the Friday blast and vowed to carry out more attacks against Malian soldiers who sided with what it called "enemies of Islam."

MUJAO is one of several military groups that had strongholds in northern Mali before French forces intervened in January.

Radio France Internationale said Saturday that Malian authorities had issued arrest warrants for the leaders of MUJAO as well as Ansar Dine and the Tuareg separatist group MNLA. All three militant groups have been linked to unrest in the country's north.

Friday's violence overshadowed the arrival of 70 European Union military trainers. They were the first of 500 military instructors who are being deployed to help strengthen the Malian army.

The Mali crisis began in early 2012 when the Tuareg separatist group MNLA launched a rebellion in the north. The MNLA and Islamist militants seized control of the north after the March coup in Bamako, but the MNLA was soon swept aside as the militants imposed harsh Islamic law on the region.

At the request of Mali's government, France entered its former colony last month to drive back the al-Qaida-linked militants who had begun moving in the direction of the capital, Bamako.

France wants to begin handing over its four-week-old military operation to the Malian army and African forces. But officials say any transfer will have to wait until Mali's security situation stabilizes.

France has proposed the United Nations establish a peacekeeping mission in Mali. Diplomats have said privately that a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the mission is not likely before the end of February. It could take another two months after that to transition the African forces into U.N. peacekeepers.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.