Suspect in killing of US diplomat arrested in Mali

Travelers driving from Niamey, Niger, line up to be searched at the entrance of Gao, northern Mali, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

BAMAKO, Mali: A member of an extremist group wanted in the fatal carjacking of an American official in Niger more than a decade ago has been arrested by French soldiers in northern Mali, prosecutors said.

The suspect, known as Cheibani Ould Hama, was due to be transferred to the capital, Bamako, on Thursday afternoon, chief prosecutor Daniel Tessougue said.

"He was arrested with three other people by the French army," Tessougue said. "He will be handed over to Malian authorities at a gendarmerie camp in Bamako. They (French forces) have not given us more information."

Experts say Cheibani, a Malian national, was a low-ranking member of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. Officials in neighboring Niger have said he was among 22 prisoners who escaped during a June attack on the central prison in Niamey, the capital. 

The attack was carried out by suspected militants from the Nigeria-based Islamic extremist group Boko Haram.

In March, Cheibani was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his role in the killing of four tourists from Saudi Arabia in 2009.

But U.S. authorities were on the hunt for Cheibani in connection with the shooting death of William Bultemeier, a Department of Defense attache, back in 2000.

In September, officials in federal court in Brooklyn unsealed an indictment against Cheibani, whose real name is Alhassane Ould Mohamed, for allegedly murdering an internationally protected person.

The attack occurred on Dec. 22, 2000, just before Bultemeier was to return home to North Carolina. He had gone out to dinner at a restaurant called La Cloche with Marine Staff Sgt. Christopher McNeely and other embassy employees. Bultemeier was driving a Toyota Land Cruiser with diplomatic license plates.

As Bultemeier left the restaurant shortly after midnight, he was accosted by Cheibani and another unidentified man armed with a pistol and an AK-47 assault rifle, the indictment said.

Cheibani allegedly demanded the keys to the SUV before shooting Bultemeier in the chest with the pistol. When McNeely tried to intervene, the second man used the AK-47 to shoot both victims, the indictment says.

After Cheibani pulled the keys from Bultemeier's pocket, both men drove away in the SUV. McNeely survived the attack "but suffered lasting injuries," the indictment says.

Cheibani was arrested in Mali two days after the killing, remaining in custody there until he escaped in 2002.

In late 2009, Cheibani was arrested again in Mali in the killings of the four Saudi Arabian nationals in northern Niger. He was sent back to Niger where he was tried and convicted, only to escape during the Niamey prison attack in June.

U.S. authorities were offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to his capture.





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