The number-three leader of the armed group that controlled Timbuktu in northern Mali until last week, Mohamed Moussa Ag Mouhamed, has been arrested near the Algerian border, sources say.
Mohamed Moussa, as he was known in Timbuktu, is being taken to the northeastern city of Kidal, the last bastion of rebels who controlled northern Mali for 10 months before being ousted in a French-led military operation launched on January 11, a Malian security source said on Monday.
"The number three leader of Ansar al-Dine, the one who sowed terror, who ordered people's hands cut off, who supported the strict application of sharia, was arrested by an armed group," the source told AFP news agency.
The information was confirmed by a Kidal regional official, Abdoulaye Toure, though the two sources gave conflicting accounts on which of the area's rival groups had arrested him.
The arrest was believed to have been carried out either by the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA), a Tuareg separatist movement, or an Ansar al-Dine splinter group, the Islamic Movement of Azawad (MIA).
Azawad is the Tuareg name for northern Mali.
"He was the ideologue of Ansar Dine in Timbuktu," Toure said.
"He was called Ansar Dine's number three, but in reality he was the brain of the organisation, the doctrine in Timbuktu. He was arrested in Hallil near the Algerian border by a [formerly] allied armed group."
Toure also said a man accused of taking part in the kidnapping of a French hostage in November had been arrested in the same area.French officials say seven French hostages are believed to be held in the area, which is near where 30 French warplanes carried out major air strikes on Sunday.
Kidal, which French and Chadian troops have been working to secure, was an Ansar al-Dine stronghold, but the MIA recently broke away and renounced "extremism and terrorism".
French air strikes
Meanwhile, French warplanes have continued to attack rebel camps near the northern town of Tessalit, close to the Algerian border.
Thierry Burkhard, a spokesman for the French army in Paris, said that the overnight raids targeted logistics bases and training camps reportedly used by al-Qaeda-linked fighters.
"These were important airstrikes," Burkhard told the Reuters news agency on Sunday.
Tessalit, about 200km north of Kidal, is one of the main gateways into the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains, where the rebels have sought refuge after fleeing major towns.
France says the rebels are also holding hostage seven of its citizens in the mountains, who were kidnapped in the Sahara region in recent years.