AFP - Mali's army on Tuesday attacked an Al-Qaeda base near the Algerian border, killing several militants, security sources said, nearly two weeks after the group said it had killed a British hostage.
The operation was believed to be the first such attack by Malian troops against Islamist militants in the country's north, observers said.
"We have attacked a group of armed Islamists, members of Al-Qaeda, in the desert," one of the sources told AFP. "There were several dead on their side and we seized ammunition, destroyed vehicles."
The attack targeted Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which claims close ties to Al-Qaeda and emerged out of an Algerian radical group.
It has sought to extend its range into nations on the southern edge of the Sahara and has claimed several attacks in the region.
The source said Mali had been in touch with Algerian authorities and exchanged information with them, adding the aim of the military action was to flush out armed Islamists in both countries.
Another source said the destroyed base was located "between Mali and Algeria" and that there were deaths among the militants. The operation occurred in the Timetrine region.
According to the source, Algeria and Mali have accords allowing them to pursue the militants in each other's territories and the two countries were working "hand-in-hand."
Earlier this month, US-based monitoring group SITE Intelligence said Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb posted an online statement saying it killed Briton Edwin Dyer on May 31.
The execution marked the first time that Al-Qaeda's north African branch had killed a Western hostage, observers said.
Last week, security officials and family members said suspected Al-Qaeda members had killed a senior Malian military officer at his home in Timbuktu.
Lieutenant-Colonel Lamana Ould Bou was an intelligence officer who had played a key role in the arrest of several members of AQIM members when they crossed Mali's territory, according to family and security sources.
It was the first killing of a high-ranking Malian officer by the group, and another Malian officer at the time called it an "act of war" and vowed to avenge the death.
Malian authorities had pledged to pursue the Islamists after the killing of the British hostage.
Dyer was one of a group of six Westerners kidnapped by Islamic extremists in the Sahel region -- bordering the Sahara desert -- in December and January.
He was captured between Mali and Niger while returning from a desert festival celebrating Tuareg culture.
Two Canadian diplomats and two European tourists were released in April and flown to the Malian capital Bamako, but Dyer and Swiss national Werner Greiner remained in captivity. Greiner is believed to still be in the hands of the kidnappers.