Malian soldiers opened fire on a car that refused to stop at a security checkpoint killing 16 civilians, the country’s officials and police said.
The incident took place on Saturday night in Mali’s central region of Segou, in the town of Diabali, and authorities said those killed were Islamist fighters, Arab satellite television, Aljazeera reports.
Among the dead were two Malians and 14 Mauritanian nationals. While some military sources claim the men were insurgents who were taking part in the armed rebellion that has been on in the country’s north, officials sources in the community say those killed were in fact preachers, and not Islamists, who operate within a group which is recognized by the authorities in Mauritania and Mali.
They were said to have travelled for a religious meeting in the capital Bamako, when they were killed.
There were no immediate reports indicating whether those killed were armed, and it was not immediately clear if the presence of suspected Islamists in the area signified an advance by the fighters who have controlled northern Mali for five months, Aljazeera said.
Malian troops are on high alert after Islamists seized control of more than half of the country following a disastrous army coup in March in Bamako that led to political chaos and a collapsed military presence in the north.
Last week, neighbouring Guinea blocked a shipment of heavy weapons to Mali fearing they could end up in the wrong hands.