July 22, 2010 / 6:06 PM / in 7 years

Shots heard, planes circled by Niger border: Mali

BAMAKO (Reuters) - Planes circled the Mali-Niger border region late on Wednesday where a French national is believed held by al Qaeda’s North African wing and shots were heard, Malian officials said.

“There were clashes in the area, shots were heard. We don’t know whether it was clashes between soldiers and the hostage takers,” a senior official in the Kidal region of northern Mali by the border with Niger and Algeria said on Thursday.

“There were lots of comings and goings of military airplanes at the airport of Tessalit,” the source added. Separately, a military source in Bamako confirmed there had been clashes.

Earlier, France said it was working to free 78-year-old Michel Germaneau before a late-July deadline set by al Qaeda’s North African wing to kill him.

A spokesman for the French armed forces headquarters in Paris said: “For the moment, we have nothing to communicate on the matter. We don’t have enough elements.”

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