France, Mauritania in desert strike on al Qaeda

PARIS/NOUAKCHOTT, (Reuters) – France and Mauritania  said yesterday they carried out a military operation against al  Qaeda’s North African wing, believed to be holding a 78-year-old  French hostage in the desert Sahel region.

Mauritania said six Islamists were killed in the attack, but  French officials said they had no word on the fate of Michel  Germaneau, a retired engineer kidnapped on April 22 and held by  al Qaeda’s North African wing, AQIM.

The dawn raid took place on Thursday amid calls for  increased cooperation to tackle Islamists but it appears to have  angered Mali, which was not involved, and Spain, which also has  hostages held by another al Qaeda faction in the region.

The French Defence Ministry said the army gave technical and  logistical support to Mauritanian forces in an operation to  prevent an attack by AQIM against the West African state.

“The terrorist group targeted by the Mauritanian army is the  one that executed a British hostage a year ago and has refused  to give proof of life or engage in negotiations to release our  compatriot Michel Germaneau,” the French ministry said.

It did not say whether the hostage had been located or where  the military operation took place. But it said Mauritania’s  action had “neutralised” the group.

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