Five soldiers, 12 militants dead after Mauritanian border clashes
The Mauritian Army reported Saturday that a deadly battle in the vast desert region of northern Mali left five Mauritian soldiers and 12 militants of the North African affiliate of al-Qaeda dead overnight, dpa reported.
A senior military source said the clashes began during a raid late Friday at Hassissidi, some 100 kilometres north of Mali's historical city of Timbuktu.
The source, who asked for anonymity, said Mauritanian security forces seized weapons caches and some 20 cars used by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
The group has become increasingly active in the trans-Sahel region, taking refuge in the desert that connects Algeria's southern border with Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
The military raid comes in the same week that top security officials from Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger held two days of intelligence meetings in Algeria aimed at coordinating efforts to combat al-Qaeda in the region.
It also comes on the heels of the kidnapping of seven people from northern Niger. An employee for the French nuclear group Areva and his wife, both French citizens, are among the kidnapped.
It was reported that the gunmen had crossed with their hostages from Niger into the Malian desert.
Also this month, French and Mauritanian soldiers attacked a suspected al-Qaeda base in the Malian desert in an attempt to find a French hostage, who was later killed.