Nouakchott: Several "armed terrorists" were killed or wounded when Mauritanian troops attacked an al Qaeda-linked group in a desert region, an official Mauritanian source said on Thursday.
"The operation which targeted a terrorist base is complete," the source said. "Several armed terrorists were killed and wounded at the base, located in the desert, which serves as a refuge for terrorist fighters from the nebulous Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)."
Earlier, a Mauritanian source said yesterday`s raid was aimed at freeing an elderly Frenchman, kidnapped by AQIM on April 19 and facing execution.
The raid was held "in coordination with friendly countries," the source said, adding that the 78-year-old Michel Germaneau, an aid worker, was not found.
"What I know is that the Mauritanians went to the Sahara where the French hostage was being held. It seems they went to find him but he could not be located."
When asked if troops from former colonial power France were involved in the operation, the source said: "I have not heard of French soldiers. I know that the Mauritanians were there, that`s sure."
But a Malian source who mediated in several kidnapping cases involving Westerners affair said "France was aware of the operation before it kicked off. Now the question is the degree of its involvement."
In Paris, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero refused comment, simply saying: "Since the start we have been fully mobilised to try and free our compatriot. We are also very worried because we have tried to establish contact with the kidnappers but they have spurned us up until now."
Malian security sources confirmed the operation, adding that Mali had authorised the operation, and a security source in Burkina Faso, also contacted from Mali, said they had been "informed of the attack by Mauritanian forces against AQIM”.