At least six killed in Islamist ambush in northern Mali

Mali soldiers patrol the Djingareyber Mosque in Timbuktu, on June 6, 2015 (AFP Photo/Philippe Desmazes)

Bamako (AFP) - Militants armed with rocket-launchers killed at least six civilians Tuesday in an attack in the Timbuktu region of northern Mali, the government said, in the latest violence to hit the restive country.

There was no immediate claim of responsiblity but security sources told AFP that Islamist fighters were behind the incident, which the government slammed as a "terrorist attack".

Northern Mali fell to Al-Qaeda-linked jihadist groups long concentrated in the area in March-April 2012 before being ousted by an ongoing French-led military operation launched in January 2013.

But despite the signing in June of a peace deal between Tuareg-led rebels and the government, large swathes of Mali remain beyond the control of government and foreign forces.

A government statement said a convoy of civilian vehicles guarded by security forces came under attack around 7:30 am (0730 GMT) on Tuesday around 100 kilometres (60 miles) from Gao, the biggest city in northern Mali.

"The terrorist attack with rocket-launchers caused the death of six civilians and wounded two others including a soldier," the statement published Tuesday evening said.

A security source told AFP the attack began when one of the vehicles hit a mine laid by the militants.

Two other civilian vehicles arrived and were damaged before "the Islamists came out from their hiding place to fire on the civilians," the source added.

Three lorries employed on behalf of MINUSMA, the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, arrived at the scene and were set on fire by the Islamist fighters, the security source added.

A local resident, who was not identified, also confirmed the attack to AFP and said it took place in the village of Tassgilat.

He said he had seen "burnt bodies". "The Islamists also killed people. I saw the fire," he said, adding that Malian soldiers later arrived at the site after the Islamist fighters had left.

A UN mission source said "more than six" people had died.

Seven people, including one fighter, were killed Friday in two separate border region attacks blamed on jihadists in Mali and neighbouring Burkina Faso, security and government sources said.

Long focused on Mali's north, jihadist attacks have extended into the country's centre this year, and from June towards the south.