BAMAKO, Mali — Sixteen Muslim clerics from a moderate sect were fatally shot in central Mali as they traveled to a religious conference, the Malian and Mauritanian governments said Sunday. Early reports said the men’s beards aroused the suspicion of Mali’s military, which confused them with extremists who have taken control of the north.
The clerics were traveling to the gathering in Bamako when they were executed in Diabaly, 267 miles north of the capital. The victims included at least 12 nationals of Mauritania, the Mauritanian government said in a report that blamed Malian security forces. A relative of two of the victims and a Mali police official confirmed this version of events.
“According to an official source, Mauritanian officials are in touch with Malian authorities in order to get more information on the circumstances of this affair and also to repatriate the bodies of the Mauritanians who were killed,’’ a statement said.
‘‘In the name of the people of Mali, the government deeply regrets this incident,’’ the statement said. The government has ordered an investigation , it said.