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Four charged in Mali for kidnap of Colombian nun

© HO/AFP/File | Gloria Cecilia Narvaez Argoti was seized by armed men on February 7 in the southern Malian village of Karangasso, near the Burkina Faso border

BAMAKO (AFP) - 

Authorities in Mali charged four men Tuesday over the kidnapping of a Colombian nun, whose whereabouts remain unknown, judicial sources told AFP.

Gloria Cecilia Narvaez Argoti, a Franciscan nun in her fifties, was seized by armed men on February 7 in the southern Malian village of Karangasso, near the Burkina Faso border, where she had been working.

Mali's interior ministry has said officials believe she was abducted by jihadists who then drove towards the border.

Malian and Burkinabe security sources told AFP in February that search operations were being expanded around the frontier.

A judicial source said Tuesday that the suspects who have been charged -- all Malian nationals -- included three workers from the parish where the nun was kidnapped.

"They are accused of kidnap linked to terrorism," the source said.

A second source said the four had been charged with conspiracy and possession of illegal weapons.

The suspects are in detention in Bamako but neither source confirmed when and where they had been arrested.

According to a source close to Koutiala parish, near where the nun was kidnapped, they were detained Sunday near the town and driven to the capital, where they appeared before an anti-terrorism judge and were charged on Tuesday.

A prison source said the four included "two occasional ambulance drivers in the parish where the nun lived".

After the kidnapping, "the kidnappers fled with Sister Gloria Cecilia Narvaez Argoti in the ambulance", the source alleged, identifying the other two suspects as a parish cook and a Karangasso resident.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the kidnapping, but attacks in the south of Mali by jihadists, a threat that was once confined to the restive north, have become increasingly common.

The north fell under the control of Tuareg-led rebels and jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda in 2012. They were largely ousted by a French-led military operation in January 2013.

But the implementation of a peace accord reached in 2015 has been piecemeal, with insurgents still active across large parts of the nation.

© 2017 AFP