BAMAKO, Dec 24 (Reuters) - Malian authorities have arrested the former head of the Islamic police in the northern town of Gao, who imposed hardline sharia law during a 10-month occupation by al Qaeda-linked rebels.
Major Colonel Abdoukaye Coulibaly, military commander in Gao, said Aliou Mahamar Toure was detained on Monday close to the town where he imposed a reign of terror until its liberation by French forces in January.
Toure, one of the leaders of the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA), gained notoriety for ordering the amputation of hands and feet for people convicted of robbery and other crimes in Gao.
Prior to the seizure of northern Mali by armed Islamist groups in April 2012, Mali was traditionally regarded a bastion of moderate Sufi Islam.
Toure was one of the highest ranking Malians within the loose Islamist coalition - including MUJWA and two other groups - that captured the northern two-thirds of Mali in the chaos following a military coup in March 2012.
France launched a massive military operation in January, involving some 4,000 troops and waves of air strikes, to destroy the Islamist enclave in its former colony, which it said posed a threat to Western security. (Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo and Adama Diarra; editing by David Evans)