Nouakchott: A suspected French jihadist has been arrested on the border of Mauritania and an area of northern Mali occupied by Islamic extremists, a police source said on Friday.
The suspect, who is in his forties and entered Mauritania via Morocco, was detained on Tuesday at Nema, a Mauritanian town near the Malian border, the source said on condition of anonymity.
“The simple fact that a light-skinned Frenchman wants to go to Azawad [northern Mali] at this time is sufficiently suspicious to security forces,” he said.
After his arrest he was transferred to Nouakchott for interrogation on his “real intentions, the goal of his voyage and his alleged links with jihadists” of Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), he added.
Azawad is the name given by Tawareq nomads to northern Mali.
The region was taken over by Tawareq separatists and Islamic extremists following a coup in Bamako in March.
The Islamists later wrested control from the separatists and now control the vast arid zone.
The police source said that even if the Frenchman “was a normal man, without ties to the terrorists, it was our duty to prevent him from carrying out his plan” to go to Timbuktu, one of the occupied cities.