NIAMEY — Troops scoured Wednesday Niger's northern desert for Al-Qaeda militants who clashed with troops at the weekend after arriving from Libya loaded with explosives, a security official said.
The Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) fighters, travelling in three vehicles, fought with troops on Sunday about 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of the remote uranium mining town of Arlit, officials said.
A soldier and a militant were killed and six troops wounded, the defence ministry said. It had initially said the fighting was with armed bandits.
"The armed men who clashed with the Niger army on Sunday north of Arlit were Islamist elements of AQIM," the security official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
One vehicle was stopped and the military was tracking down the other two, he said.
"The army, with reinforcements that arrived in Arlit, are still sweeping the area Wednesday to try to find the two other vehicles that were able to escape after a gun battle," the official said.
Trunks containing 640 kilogrammes (around 1,400 pounds) of explosives and 435 detonators were found in the seized vehicle, he said, adding they were "were stamped 'Libya' and were of Czech manufacture".
It was not clear where the group was headed, he said. Their guide, a Niger national, had handed himself in to police in Arlit, the official said.
The Algerian-rooted Islamist movement has bases in neighbouring Mali. It carries out attacks and kidnappings and runs smuggling routes in several countries in the Sahel region that spans north Africa.
Militants kidnapped five French nationals, a Togolese and Madagascar citizen from Arlit in September last year.
AQIM is still holding four Frenchmen and has demanded the withdrawal of French troops from Afghanistan for their release.
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