In photo, Mali’s Mayor Baba Ould Cheikh shakes hands with his citizens

PARIS, France––The family of a mayor in Mali has said that he is missing. The mayor in northern Mali was “kidnapped by armed men”, his family and a security source said Wednesday, as the West African nation’s most powerful jihadist group claimed a string of attacks last week.

The mayor of Tarkint in the Gao region, Baba Ould Cheikh, was snatched by about ten armed men between January 21 and 23.

Mayor Cheikh, before his kidnap, had negotiated the release of Europeans kidnapped by jihadists in the past and is the latest and most high profile Malian government’s victim of either criminal elements or jihadists who frequently organize such kidnapping spree.

“There is no doubt he was taken away. He didn’t just disappear. Either the kidnapping was done by people he had a disagreement with or Islamists who organized it,” the security source said.

The mayor was named in an inquiry into a drug smuggling operation in 2009 involving a Boeing 727 flown from Venezuela and burnt after unloading the cargo in the Gao region, according to the UN drugs agency.

He was arrested for cocaine trafficking in April 2013 but released months later due to lack of evidence.

Meanwhile, the powerful Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM in its Arabic acronym) claimed two attacks against the Malian army last week that left 18 soldiers dead.

The Mauritanian news agency Al-Akhbar, which regularly reports claims of responsibility from jihadists in the Sahel, published a statement from the Islamist militant coalition which stated it lost four men in the attacks.

Islamist extremists linked to Al-Qaeda took control of the desert north of the former French colony in early 2012 but were largely driven out in an ongoing French-led military operation launched in January 2013.

Mali’s government, in June 2015, signed a peace agreement with coalitions of non-jihadist armed groups. However, Islamist insurgents remain effective, and large portions of the country are ungovernable.