French jihadist arrested

Paris - French troops in Mali have arrested a French citizen who converted to Islam and also to the jihadist cause.

According to military spokesmen Colonel Thierry Burkhard, Gilles Le Guen was arrested earlier this week in north of Timbuktu after he threatened France in a video last year.

He has made Timbuktu his base for about two years.

Le Guen, a former merchant marine from France's western Brittany region, was arrested on Sunday evening and was being interrogated by his French captors, but would be turned over shortly to Malian forces, said Burkhard by telephone. 

He could be expelled to France but that decision would be up to Mali, he added.

Le Guen, thought to be in his 40s, is well known to the French.

He appeared in an online video in October wearing a black turban with an assault rifle at his side, threatening France if it intervened in Mali to chase out religious radicals.

He had flaunted his radicalism while living in Timbuktu, where residents said he had a wife and two children.

"I am following the road traced by Osama bin Laden," Le Guen said in a telephone interview earlier this year, days preceeding the French intervention.

Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), an Algeria-based al-Qaida offshoot, began moving into Mali's vast north a decade ago.

Two other groups comprised of predominantly Malians joined the Algerian jihadist group, known as AQIM, and took over the north, controlling major cities and enforcing strict Shariah law.

AQIM is currently holding at least five French hostages. 

President Francois Hollande ordered a surprise French intervention in Mali in January to stop the west African country from becoming what he said was a sanctuary for terrorists that could threaten France and Europe.

The first of some 4,000 troops arrived on January 11.

They quickly retook major cities like Timbuktu but are trying to clean out the region permanently, a task that some experts have said would be hard to achieve.

- Additional reporting Sapa

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