Special forces in Mali disrupted a network of at least six Islamic extremists plotting an attack in the country's capital, an army commander said Saturday.
The extremists were linked to the Ansar Dine group, which has claimed responsibility for recent attacks in the south of the country, said the commander, Modibo Naman Traore.
The latest plot began to unravel on Thursday, when the first suspect was stopped on the main road to Bamako from the central city of Mopti, Traore said. The man was carrying 9,900 euros ($11,000) as well as plans for an attack that were to be delivered to militants in Bamako, Traore said.
He said Malian intelligence officials believed the man had received the money and plans from Ansar Dine's leader, Iyad Ag Ghaly, during a meeting at the end of June near the border with Algeria.
Following Thursday's arrest, officials arrested three men and two women in the capital who were also believed to be part of the network, Traore said.
Mali's northern half fell under the control of Islamic extremists following a military coup in 2012. A French-led military intervention in 2013 scattered the extremists from the north's cities and towns, though the region remains insecure despite the presence of U.N. peacekeepers. In recent months, violence has extended south.
In March, a masked gunman opened fire at a restaurant popular with foreigners in Bamako, killing five people.
In late June, gunmen killed three soldiers in an attack on a village near the border with Mauritania, then followed that up the next day by briefly occupying a village near the border with Ivory Coast. Ansar Dine later said it was behind those attacks.
Officials in Bamako issued a "red alert" on Friday warning residents to avoid large gathering spaces, markets, supermarkets, restaurants "and other places frequented by the U.N." The warning was to remain in effect until at least Monday.