PARIS — The French military helped Mauritanian forces thwart an attack by suspected Al Qaeda members in northwest Africa in an operation that left six extremists dead, officials said yesterday.
Four others allegedly from Al Qaeda’s North African offshoot escaped during the raid, according to Mauritania’s interior minister, Mohamed Ould Boilil. The group had been planning to attack a Mauritanian military base next week, he said.
Questions swirled around the mysterious operation against Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, which is active in the Sahara Desert and the arid Sahel region. The French Defense Ministry would not say where the raid took place.
The Spanish newspaper El País and other media said the raid early Thursday was an attempt to free a 78-year-old French hostage. But El País said the troops did not find Michel Germaneau, an engineer working for Algeria’s oil industry who was abducted April 22.
AQIM has threatened to execute Germaneau next week if its demands on releasing prisoners are not met.
The French Defense and Foreign ministries declined to answer questions about whether the operation was intended to free Germaneau.
A terse Defense Ministry statement said the operation “neutralized the group of terrorists and prevented a planned attack against Mauritanian objectives,’’ and said France had provided “technical and logistics support’’ to Mauritania.