BAMAKO (Reuters) - Authorities in Mali have arrested an army officer and a number of associates suspected of plotting against President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, military and intelligence sources said on Friday.
The West African nation was plunged into chaos by a March 2012 military coup that allowed al Qaeda-linked fighters to seize its desert north.
A French-led military intervention defeated the Islamists, paving the way for elections that swept Keita to power in August, but the arrests highlight the instability that persists in the coup-prone country despite the deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping mission.
Lieutenant Mohamed Ouattara, a member of the elite red beret army unit considered close to deposed President Amadou Toumani Toure, was arrested late on Wednesday, sources said.
“He was planning something but didn’t have time to carry it out. There were other arrests. Certain political leaders would have been involved. An inquiry is under way,” a senior military official told Reuters, asking not to be named.
A second military official confirmed Ouattara’s arrest. Ouattara himself could not be contacted for comment.
A member of Mali’s intelligence services said Ouattara and around 10 non-commissioned officers were being interrogated.
“Some 10 non-commissioned officers had the goal of making an attempt on the life of the president of the republic to destabilise the country. Some had been bodyguards for former ministers,” he said.
A source at Mali’s presidency said that while the motorcade of the president who is universally known as IBK had been involved in an accident Wednesday night, it did not appear that the incident was linked to a plot.
“We’ve learned on the social networks like everyone else that there was an attempt to assassinate President IBK,” he said. “If they’re referring to that to speak of a murder attempt, no, it was a simple accident.”
Mali’s army suffered an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Tuareg separatists last month after it attempted to seize their stronghold of Kidal. The army was quickly overrun by rebel forces as U.N. and French peacekeepers declined to intervene.
Popular faith in the army had already been shaken by the ease with which it was overrun in early 2012 by a coalition of Tuareg separatists and Islamist militants.
Keita’s government announced this week it would introduce compulsory national service for men and women aged 18 to 35 in an effort foster patriotism and improve national defence.
Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo and Adama Diarra; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Robin Pomeroy