BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Gunmen attacked a military camp in western Mali on Saturday, killing three soldiers as residents of a nearby village hid in their homes, officials and witnesses said.
The attack began at around 5 a.m. (0500 GMT) at the camp near the village of Nara, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the border with Mauritania, army spokesman Col. Souleymane Maiga said.
"The army repelled the attackers who had entrenched themselves in the village," Maiga said. "Until around 9 a.m. there were exchanges of fire between the army and the assailants in the streets of the village."
In addition to the three soldiers killed, the bodies of nine attackers were recovered, according to a defense ministry statement issued Saturday night. Maiga said seven soldiers were injured
Soldiers were patrolling the village Saturday afternoon looking for assailants hiding out there, said Nara resident Boughambi Traore.
Civilians took shelter as soon as they heard the fighting, said Foussein Keita, another resident.
Maiga said the assailants were unknown, and the defense ministry statement referred only to "armed individuals" and "enemy forces." But a source in Mali's intelligence service, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said the gunmen were Islamic militants from the Peul ethnic group and were linked to Ansar Dine, one of the groups that took control of northern Mali following a military coup in 2012.
A French-led military intervention launched in 2013 scattered the Islamic extremists, though northern Mali remains insecure and in recent months violence has extended further south. In March a masked gunman opened fire in a restaurant popular with foreigners in Mali's capital, Bamako, killing five people.
Earlier this month, Mali's main coalition of Tuareg separatist rebels signed a peace agreement with the government.