Algerian security forces killed 20 members of an al-Qaida splinter group who were allegedly about to attack two fuel tankers, a newspaper reported Monday.
The forces were tracking a convoy apparently carrying members of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa on Sunday near the Malian border, the El Khabar newspaper reported. It said the strike came just before the militants were allegedly about to attack the fuel tankers.
The newspaper, considered close to Algerian security services, cited local security forces.
The raid could complicate efforts to free seven Algerian diplomats believed to be in the hands of the movement, which has fought the Algerian government for the last two decades.
The diplomats were taken from a consulate in Gao, in northern Mali, when militants stormed the building in early April during a chaotic period after a coup. Amid that chaos, Tuareg rebels, who want to establish their own homeland in Mali, swept across the country and took control of the northern half.
Many fear that the uncertainty in Mali will allow militant groups such as al-Qaida to find a new refuge in the Sahara nation.
Last week, a brother of one of the diplomats said he had been told by the Algerian government that the hostages would be released soon, but there has been no public update since.