A Mali intelligence spokesman says special forces have arrested a jihadi leader close to Islamic extremist group Ansar Dine in southern Mali.

Spokesman Modibo Naman Traore said Thursday that special forces arrested Souleymane Keita on Tuesday near the Mauritanian border. Traore said Keita was arrested as he prepared to join Ansar Dine leader Iyad Ag Ghaly in Mali's Kidal region.

Keita, 47, is thought to have led several attacks against Malian armed forces in southern Mali in 2015. Ansar Dine has ties to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and this year claimed responsibility for an attack on a U.N. base that killed at least seven peacekeepers.

Traore said Keita had been on the run for nearly a year after the arrests of several prominent members of his group.