BAMAKO French forces killed at least 11 suspected Islamist fighters and seized large amounts of weapons and ammunition during an operation in Mali's northern region of Timbuktu, a French army source in Mali said on Friday.
"The operation was carried out on Wednesday night around a hundred kilometers north of Timbuktu," the source said, requesting anonymity. "Eleven terrorists were killed and one French soldier was wounded."
A source at the Malian defense ministry in Bamako said French forces were carrying out operations in the region against Islamist militants, using air and ground troops. He could not confirm the killing of the militants.
A French-led offensive last January drove out Islamist militants who had seized control of northern Mali. However, some fighters linked to al Qaeda are still holding out in pockets of territory in a north, a year after the offensive.
The groups have stepped up attacks in recent months, targeting the northern cities of Kidal, Timbuktu and Gao. Two French journalists were killed by Islamists in Kidal in November.
French and Malian military officials said threats of militant attacks on Timbuktu and Kidal remain real. Patrols are ongoing in the Adrar des Ifoghas mountain region near the Algerian border, used by militants as hideouts.
Colonel Abdoulaye Coulibaly, who commands Mali military operations in the region, said Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and MUJWA (Movement for Unification and Jihad in West Africa) are operating in the Ifoghas mountains.
"There are occasional military operations which disperses them, but the area, which is vast, has not been completely searched and cleared. It is possible that they may return and regroup," Coulibaly said.
(Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Tom Heneghan)