PARIS, Feb 11 ― Four civilians were caught in cross fire after French troops supported with an attack helicopter killed 10 Islamist militants in Burkina Faso, the French military said in a statement yesterday.

France has thousands of troops operating across the Sahel region as part of a mission to combat violence by Islamist militant groups linked to al-Qaeda and Islamic State.

But it is considering withdrawing troops from Mali, where relations between Paris and the junta in Bamako have deteriorated.

The death of four civilians in Burkina comes at a bad time with anti-French sentiment especially strong in Mali and it beginning to spillover into Burkina after a coup in January.

"Unfortunately, despite all the measures taken by the Barkhane (French) force and by the unit engaged on the ground, four civilians, present in the terrorist camp, lost their lives during the exchange of fire," the French army said in a statement.

It said 10 Ansarul Islam militants were killed after violent clashes during the night of February 7-8, close to the town of Ouahigouya, near the border with Mali.

The French military said the group had been behind attacks that killed 53 Burkinabe policemen in November and a recent attack that saw two Burkinabe soldiers killed. ― Reuters