NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania (AP) — The man who acted as the spokesman for one of the three al-Qaida-linked groups occupying northern Mali turned himself in over the weekend to Mauritanian authorities on the border, an intelligence official briefed on the matter confirmed on Monday.
Sanda Ould Boumana, the Timbuktu-based spokesman for Ansar Dine, is being transferred to Mauritania's capital, Nouakchott. The official, who insisted on anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press, said that Ould Boumana had previously tried to negotiate a deal with Algeria, which also borders Mali.
"Ould Boumana said that he wishes to be arrested and tried in Mauritania," said the intelligence agent. "He will be transferred to Nouakchott to be interrogated by our specialists on terrorism."
Ansar Dine, or "Defenders of the Faith," invaded northern Mali in the last days of March 2012. The group's leader, Iyad Ag Ghali, is a native of Kidal, the northernmost provincial capital in Mali which became Ansar Dine's fief after the fall of the north to the extremists. In conjunction with al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar Dine also occupied the storied city of Timbuktu — Ould Boumana's hometown. He became Ansar Dine's spokesman and de facto leader in Timbuktu, and residents say that they often saw him going to meetings alongside the al-Qaida cell leaders. He was closely involved in imposing Shariah rule on Timbuktu, including overseeing the public amputation of an accused thief.
Ould Boumana fled the city in January, as French commandos advanced to end the extremists' control of the town.
In recent weeks, the Mauritanian news portal, Nouakchott Information Agency, a site that is frequently used by local jihadists to communicate with the outside world, reported that they had spoken to Ould Boumana and that he was pleading for asylum in Algeria.