Main fugitive in Mali prison break suspect in French kidnap: sources

BAMAKO Tue Jun 17, 2014 12:55pm EDT

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BAMAKO (Reuters) - A fugitive at the heart of a jail break in Mali's capital on Monday was being held for his alleged role in the 2011 kidnapping of two French citizens who ended up in the hands of al Qaeda's regional faction, sources said on Tuesday.

Malian officials said Mahamed Aly Ag Wadoussene shot his way out of Bamako's central prison on Monday, allowing 22 other prisoners to escape and serving a reminder about the fragile security situation in the West African state.

Eight prisoners were re-captured on Monday but Wadoussene, an ethnic Tuareg and deserter from Mali's army, remains at large and Mali state television warned citizens he was dangerous.

"He was the main organizer of the kidnapping of the two Frenchmen in Hombori on Nov. 24 2011," a Malian military official said. Wadoussene was arrested in December 2011 by Malian security forces, he added, asking not to be named.

France has spearheaded international efforts to stabilizes Mali after a 2012 coup led to the collapse of the army, allowing al Qaeda-linked Islamists to occupy three vast desert regions for nearly a year.

Paris dispatched war planes and thousands of troops to scatter the Islamists in January 2013 and U.N. peacekeepers have deployed to stabilize the country, which held fresh elections last year.

The Malian military official said Wadoussene had carried out the kidnapping for Abdelkrim al-Targui, a local al Qaeda commander who has also been linked to last year's kidnapping and killing of two French journalists in the northern town of Kidal.

Malian officials released a photo they said was of Wadoussene. It showed a bearded, fair-skinned Tuareg wearing a white boubou and a black and white turban.

A diplomat confirmed the link between the escapee and the kidnapping of the Frenchmen but said it was not clear if Wadoussene was an Islamist himself or had sold the hostages on once they had been seized.

French authorities were not available for comment.

Despite the French action, rebels remain in the north and President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has struggled to retain the local and international support that swept him to power.

Philippe Verdon, one of the men kidnapped in Hombori, was killed by his captors in northern Mali last July in response to France's military intervention.

Serge Lazarevic, the other, appeared in a video earlier this month appealing to Frehcn President Francois Hollande to negotiate his release.

(Additional reporting and writing by David Lewis; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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