BAMAKO - Suspected drug traffickers arrested in Mali and Mauritania this month are key members of one of the Sahara's largest drug networks, security sources said Monday.
"On Sunday we arrested another person at the border between Mali and Algeria," said a Malian official involved in the fight against drug trafficking.
"At this stage of the investigation, we can say that with Mauritania we have captured the main members of one of the biggest drug trafficking networks in the Sahara."
A Niger security source in Bamako also described the ring as "one of the major drug trafficking networks" in the Sahara region.
He added that it was known as "Polisario" because 90 percent of its members come from camps of the Polisario Front, which is fighting for the independence of Western Sahara from Morocco.
On December 7, the Mauritanian army said it had killed two men and captured seven during a raid on a band of drug traffickers on the eastern Mauritanian border with Mali.
Two days later Malian security forces arrested six "major" drug dealers in the Sahara desert.
"It is a network which, according to our estimates, has already transported many tons of drugs across the Sahara towards Europe," said a Malian security source.
At least seven people in the network are being held in Mauritania and two others in Mali.
The alleged leader of the group, a Sarahwi called Sultani Ould Ahmadou Ould Baddi, was hit by a bullet in the abdomen during his arrest in Mauritania, the source added.