A Tuareg man holds the flag of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad during a demonstration in support of the MLNA in Kidal, northern Mali. File picture: Kenzo Tribouillard

Bamako -

French forces in Mali captured three suspected members of terror group al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, an army spokesman said on Wednesday.

“They are being questioned now. If our suspicions are confirmed, they will be transferred to the Malian authorities,” French army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Michel Sabatier told dpa.

The insurgents were captured during a special forces operation near the northern town of Timbuktu on Sunday, said Sabatier.

The United Nations mission in Mali, Minusma, confirmed that an AQIM cell was believed to be located west of Timbuktu. It was believed the group included non-Malian nationals, possibly insurgents from Somalia, Chad and Tunisia as well as a man with dual citizenship from Morocco and Spain.

The group is thought to be responsible for a rocket-propelled grenade attack on Timbuktu's airport on July 13 and for the killing of two staff members of non-profit organisation Norwegian Refugee Council near Timbuktu on May 29.

French military forces have been searching for Islamist extremists in northern Mali since late last year.

France has 2 300 soldiers in the West African nation, which is recovering from a military coup and an Islamist insurgency. - Sapa-dpa