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Mali's army reported that the victims were Islamist fighters, though other sources are reporting they were civilians.
Mali's army killed 16 people who refused to stop at a checkpoint in the town of Diabali, though it remains unclear if they were Islamist fighters or civilians.
The shooting, which occurred in the country's central Segou region Saturday night, left Malian and Mauritanian nationals dead. Soldiers opened fire after the man driving did not obey commands to stop; the army assumed the group were militants, Agence France Presse reported.
"Sixteen members of the Dawa sect who would not stop their vehicle after warning shots were fired were treated as enemies in Diabali Saturday night," a security ministry official told AFP.
It was also unclear if the victims were armed.
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However, Al Jazeera reported receiving a conflicting report from locals, who say the passengers were priests headed to a gathering in Malian capital of Bamako.
"This [the army's account] has been contradicted and challenged by sources in the town in Segou," said Al Jazeera correspondent Hashem Ahelbarra. "They told us that the people were preachers in fact, and not Islamists, who operate within a group which is recognized by the authorities in Mauritania and Mali. They were on their way to attend a religious gathering in the capital Bamako, when the army opened fire, killing them."
Northern Mali has been controlled by Islamist militants since a military coup in March, BBC News reported, and it is possible the passengers were attempting to expand the Dawa sect's control.
The shootings are likely to strain the relationship between Mali and Mauritania, reported Al Jazeera. The Malian government said it was launching an investigation into the incident, according to BBC.