Senegal interrogates 900 people in counter-terrorism operation

The operation forms part of efforts to prevent attacks by Islamist militants following a series of strikes.

Burkina Faso troops oversee the evacuation of bodies outside the Splendid hotel and the Cappuccino restaurant following a jihadist attack in Ouagadougou on 16 January 2016. Picture: AFP.

PRETORIA/DAKAR - Senegal said on Tuesday it had interrogated some 900 people over a three-day period as part of efforts to prevent attacks by Islamist militants following a series of strikes in the region.

Most were subsequently released but some were held and charged with a range of crimes not related to militant activity, such as drunkenness and traffic offences.

Seydi Gassama, executive director for Amnesty International in Senegal, said that police were authorised to conduct such operations provided they were government's instructions.

Authorities in Dakar have described it as a wider operation rather than a response to a specific threat.

Senegal was seen as an island of security in turbulent West Africa, having never suffered a major attack, despite sharing a border with Mali where al Qaeda-linked fighters have been active in desert areas for years.

The leadership in Dakar fears this makes them an attractive target for destructive forces.

They've ordered tourist installations to redouble security after 30 people died at luxury hotels in Bamako and Ouagadougou.

Sweeping operations followed in the Corniche area of Dakar, popular with foreign visitors.

Diplomats have denied rumours of a specific threat to capitals of Dakar and Abidjan, both major hubs for Westerners working in the aid, diplomacy and financial sectors.

But everywhere there are signs of heightened security.

Police officers stop and search vehicles near Dakar's beachside restaurants while armed guards are conducting patrols through Western style shopping centres in both capitals.

Additional reporting by Reuters.