Mali detains commander of Islamist group MUJWA: military source

BAMAKO Sun Mar 16, 2014 1:09pm EDT

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BAMAKO (Reuters) - Malian authorities are holding one of the country's most wanted Islamist fighters after he surrendered to French troops, a military source and French radio said on Sunday.

France had been pursuing Abu Dar Dar, a leader of the al Qaeda-linked Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA), since Paris launched a military offensive in January 2013 to drive out Islamists who had seized control of northern Mali.

"I confirm that Abu Dar Dar has handed himself into Serval troops," said a Malian military source in the northern city of Gao, using the name of the French military mission.

"He was then turned over to our troops and transferred immediately to Bamako since yesterday evening."

Several fighters in the region go by the name Abu Dar Dar and the source did not specify which one had been detained. Radio France International identified the captured Islamist as the MUJWA leader, without citing a source.

French armed forces could not immediately be reached for comment.

MUJWA was one of two militant groups that attacked French nuclear company Areva's uranium mine in northern Niger in May 2013.

The detention comes days after French troops killed Oumar Ould Hamaha, a jihadist known as 'Red Beard' with a $3 million U.S. government bounty on his head.

The French-led military offensive has broken the grip of the al Qaeda-linked militants across northern Mali but pockets of fighters still operate from desert and mountain bases.

(Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo; Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris; Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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