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Mali arrests two linked to Ivory Coast attacks

Authorities in Mali have arrested two men believed to be linked to a deadly attack on a beach resort town in neighboring Ivory Coast. The March 13 grenade and gun assault on three hotels left 19 people dead.

Authorities in Mali said Sunday that two men believed to be connected to an

al-Qaeda-linked attack in the resort Grand-Bassam

had been detained.

The Grand-Bassam rampage - the first of its kind in the Ivory Coast - was claimed by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which has also carried out similar assaults on tourist hotspots in the West African states of Mali and Burkina Faso.

Fifteen suspects have been arrested over the Grand-Bassam attacks, with Ivorian investigators backed by anti-terror specialists and judicial experts from Paris.

Eleven Ivorians - including three special forces troops - died in the attack. Four French citizens were killed and other foreign victims included citizens of

Germany,

Lebanon, Macedonia and Nigeria.

Germany, France and the United States are also assisting with the investigation.

The latest suspects were identified as Ibrahim Ould Mohamed - arrested Friday in the northern town of Goundam - and Midy Ag Sodack Dicko, who was picked up in Gossi on Thursday.

"The information concerning the arrests of two suspects in the north of Mali is true," said Lt. Col. Modibo Nama Traore, an Ivorian military intelligence officer who said they had been captured by gendarmes and intelligence agents.

Ivorian officials said that Mohamed was believed to be closely linked with the attacks' suspected mastermind, Kounta Dallah, who remains at large. Officials said Dicko had denied any role in the attacks, but investigators remain skeptical.

Islamist militancy on the rise

Soldiers in Burkina Faso surrounding a hotel under siege.

Al-Qaeda in Maghreb has also claimed credit for attacks in Mali's capital, Bamako, and neighboring Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou, that killed dozens of civilians.

The March 13 attacks were the third high-profile attacks in West Africa in recent months. A November assault on a

top hotel in Mali's capital killed 20 people,

most of them foreigners. That followed a strike on a

Burkina Faso hotel in January that killed 30 people.

France sent troops to Ivory Coast, a former French colony, in 2013 to drive out Islamist fighters who seized its desert north a year earlier. The intervention received support from Mali's regional neighbors, including Ivory Coast, which hosts a French military base.

Despite the successful intervention, violence is again rising in Mali. Islamist militants -

armed with heavy weapons looted from Libyan armories

captured in the chaos following the 2011 NATO-led intervention - are increasingly striking farther from their traditional desert strongholds.

jar/gsw (AFP, Reuters)

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