Senegalese authorities have foiled a jihadist cell linked to al-Qaeda-affiliated militants in Mali, a leading newspaper in the West African state reported on Monday.
Gendarmes arrested four men in late January in the eastern town of Kidira, which lies on the border with Senegal’s war-torn neighbor Mali, according to the Liberation newspaper.
A shopkeeper who has been under surveillance for two years was among the men who were arrested, it added.
The shopkeeper’s telephone number reportedly appeared on a Whatsapp group linked to the Katiba Macina jihadist group.
Although he denies affiliation with the group, he is suspected of acting as a recruiter inside Senegal.
Katiba Macina is one of the key armed groups in al-Qaeda-aligned Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) — which is one of the largest jihadist alliances operating in Mali.
Mali has been struggling to contain an Islamist insurgency that first emerged in 2012, killing thousands of soldiers and civilians and displacing hundreds of thousands more.
The conflict has since spread to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger, inflaming ethnic tensions along the way.
Senegal has so far been spared jihadist attacks.
However, the United Nations Security Council warned in a report this month that GSIM figures “have established themselves in Senegal.”
The head of France’s external intelligence agency, Bernard Emie, also said this month that GSIM is seeking to expand in Ivory Coast and Benin.
The four men arrested in Kidira were due to attend a hearing with a public prosecutor in Senegal’s capital Dakar on Monday, according to Liberation newspaper, on suspicion of criminal association and supporting acts of terrorism.
Neither the Senegalese gendarmes, public prosecutor nor the justice ministry immediately responded to questions from AFP about the case.