Mali arrests suspects after announcing foiled coup attempt

Malian authorities say they have arrested suspects after announcing that the ruling junta had foiled a coup attempt supported by an unnamed Western government

ByBABA AHMED Associated Press
May 17, 2022, 1:41 PM
Assimi Goita
FILE - Col. Assimi Goita meets with a high-level delegation from the West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS, at the Ministry of Defense in Bamako, Mali on Aug. 22, 2020. Malian authorities have arrested suspects Tuesday May, 17, 2022, after an announcement by the ruling junta that it had foiled a coup attempt supported by an unnamed Western government. Security forces thwarted the countercoup against two-time coup leader Col. Assimi Goita, according to a government statement. (AP Photo, File)
The Associated Press

BAMAKO, Mali -- Malian authorities have arrested suspects after an announcement by the ruling junta that it had foiled a coup attempt supported by an unnamed Western government.

Security forces thwarted the countercoup against two-time coup leader Col. Assimi Goita, according to a government statement.

The army on Tuesday said that authorities arrested suspects who are being questioned.

“For the moment, investigations and interrogations of those arrested are underway and it is after this work that details can be communicated to the public,” Mali army spokesman Col. Souleymane Dembélé said.

Early Tuesday, a list of several Malian military personnel suspected in the attempt was circulated throughout the intelligence community, according to a Malian security official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak to the media on the issue.

“These soldiers were supported by a Western state,” said the initial announcement of the foiled coup. The junta's statement, read by government spokesman Col. Abdoulaye Maiga on television Monday night, gave few details but said security forces had put down the coup last week.

The news of a failed countercoup comes as Mali faces domestic political uncertainty and international isolation as the ruling junta has announced it intends to stay in power longer than it had earlier announced.

Mali's relations with former colonizer France have deteriorated significantly under the rule of Goita, who led coups in 2020 and again in 2021 when the transitional government showed signs of being independent from him. Goita then declared himself president of the West African nation and recently said his junta would stay in power for another two years.

Earlier this year Goita ordered French troops to leave. France later announced it would withdraw its estimated 5,000 troops after spending nine years fighting the country’s Islamic extremist rebels.

The accusations of foreign interference come as Goita’s regime becomes increasingly isolated within West Africa. Earlier this week, Mali announced that it was pulling out of a five-nation regional counterterrorism force known as the G5 because it appeared other members did not accept that Goita should take over the rotating leadership of the force.

The longer transition period and Mali's growing regional and international isolation create a favorable environment for attempts to destabilize the junta, according to Malian analyst Brehima Dicko, researcher at the University of Bamako.

“Mali is at the end of what can be called the first transition of 18 months, which was widely agreed upon by Malians and countries in the region, such as the ECOWAS organization, following the first coup in 2020. Therefore from this moment on there may be other military personnel who may attempt a coup,” he said. “It’s also possible that disgruntled soldiers who served under former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita may feel isolated and want to stage a coup to return to previous leaderships.”

After seizing power in 2020, Goita's junta initially agreed to an 18-month transition to return to civilian rule, but it failed to organize elections by the deadline in February. Last month, the government said it would need an additional two years in power before it could organize a vote.

Dicko said the country identified as Western by Mali’s government may not necessarily be France.

“Even if there is a real tension between France and Mali, this Western country mentioned in the government’s communiqué can be any country that wants to position itself in the geopolitics of the Sahel,” he added.

France and other nations sharply condemned the August 2020 overthrow of Mali’s democratically elected president Keita and the second coup by Goita just nine months later.

This is not the first attempt to destabilize Mali’s ruling junta. Last year, a man armed with a knife tried to slit Goita’s throat while he was taking part in the Tabaski prayer at a large mosque in the capital, Bamako.

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