BAMAKO (Reuters) - Malian forces arrested a regional leader of Islamist group Ansar Dine in central Mali on Tuesday, after it claimed an attack in the region that killed 17 soldiers, the army spokesman said.

Ansar Dine laid claim to the attack last week by gunmen who fired on troop positions, burned buildings and pillaged shops, killing 17 Malian soldiers and wounded 35 on an army base in the central town of Nampala last week.

Army spokesman Modibo Naman Traore said the state security services arrested the commander, Mahmoud Barry - nicknamed "Abou Yehiya" - as he was traveling on a road between Nampala and the town of Dogofri.

"He is close to Lyad Ag Ghali, the chief of Ansar Dine," Traore said, adding that Barry had also planned an attack on the town of Nara that killed 12 people.

French forces intervened in 2013 to push back Islamist fighters who had hijacked a Tuareg uprising to take over northern Mali. But despite 11,000 United Nations peacekeepers deployed in the country since, insecurity has worsened and militants still launch frequent attacks across the vast desert country and its neighbors.

(Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo, writing by Tim Cocks, editing by G Crosse)