Senegalese authorities have arrested two suspected foreign jihadists in Dakar, including one who had been in contact with the mastermind of an attack on an Ivory Coast hotel a year ago.
Police spokesman Henry Cisse said an operation in Dakar on Thursday had led to the arrest of Ould Sidy Mohamed Dina, a Malian, as he was trying to leave his home. He had been in Senegal for a month, he said.
Another suspected jihadist, whom he did not name, from Mauritania, had been arrested trying to board a bus to Gambia. The suspects have not yet been charged.
“(Dina) was in contact with Ould Nouwayely, the very same who planned the attack on Grand Bassam (in Ivory Coast),” Cisse said by telephone.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had raised concerns about security and pledged UK’s support to train and provide technical aid to Gambia’s military during his visit to the West African nation.
Gambia was flagged for threats of terrorism sparked by the refusal of ousted leader Yahya Jammeh to cede power, fearing a Grand Bassam type attack on beaches.
Jammeh who fled to Equatorial Guinea had named the country an Islamic Republic, a decision that new President Adama Barrow rescinded.
Fifteen civilians and three members of the special forces were killed and 33 people were wounded in the attack in Grand Bassam, a weekend retreat popular with Ivorians and westerners, in March last year.
The attack was one of several in the region viewed as targeting France and its allies, including Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso, after Paris intervened militarily in Mali in 2013 to drive out al Qaeda-linked militants who had seized the desert north a year earlier.
Senegal has thus far been spared jihadi attacks like those that frequently plague its eastern neighbor Mali, but authorities are on high alert.
The Gambia is a destination for many Europeans, mainly British citizens looking for cheap holiday packages to its former colony. Senegal surrounds the Gambia on all three sides, except for the short Atlantic coastline on the West where tourists spend most of their time.
The Gambia is currently being secured by regional troops, mainly from Senegal and Nigeria – where Boko Haram has killed more than 20,000 people in its northeast.
(Reporting and Writing by Sam Phatey; Additional Writing by Mustapha Darboe; Editing by Sainey MK Marenah)