SOLDIERS CLASH WITH AL-QAEDA

BAMAKO - Malian security forces have clashed with suspected al-Qaeda militants in the northern Tessalit region, killing several people, a senior military source in the West African country said yesterday.

BAMAKO - Malian security forces have clashed with suspected al-Qaeda militants in the northern Tessalit region, killing several people, a senior military source in the West African country said yesterday.

The armed forces sent out patrols to track down the suspected militants around Mali's northern border region with Algeria, deep in the Sahara, after the assassination this month of the security chief of the Timbuktu region, the source said.

"One of the patrols came across a group of gunmen in several 4x4s in the Timetrine sector of Tessalit," the source, a senior military official close to the Malian defence ministry, said,speaking on condition of anonymity.

"There was a chase and the group took refuge in some hills.

"There was exchange of gunfire. There is no exact toll at the moment but there are several dead on both sides," the source added.

The vast swathes of poorly-policed and largely empty desert in northern Mali, Niger and Mauritania have increasingly been used as recruitment and training grounds by Islamist militants from Algeria in recent years.

One of the groups - al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb - said two weeks ago it had killed a British hostage it was holding. - Reuters

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