Mauritanian army attacks al-Qaida-linked militants in neighboring Mali; 17 dead

NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania (AP) — The Mauritanian army has launched an offensive against the North African branch of al-Qaida in neighboring Mali.

People described heavy fighting late Friday in the Mauritanian region of Nema near the border with Mali. An official said Saturday that Mauritanian forces were granted permission to fight militants inside northern Mali.

At least 12 militants died and five Mauritanians were killed in the operation.

Authorities believe al-Qaida's North Africa branch could be behind the kidnapping of five French nationals and two Africans in Niger, but the official said Friday night's operation had nothing to do with that case.

He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to media about the offensive.

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