Niger: Death toll from suspected militant attacks rises to 100, PM says | World News

At least 100 people are now known to have been killed in attacks by suspected jihadists on two villages in Niger, the country’s prime minister has said.

Brigi Rafini said 70 people were killed in the village of Tchombangou and 30 others in Zaroumdareye, both near Niger’s western border with Mali, on Saturday.

During remarks aired on national television during a visit to the area, Mr Rafini did not say who was behind one of the deadliest days in recent memory for a country ravaged by ethnic violence and Islamist militancy.

Niger’s prime minister, Brigi Rafini, announced the rise in the number of dead as he visited the area

Niger has suffered repeated attacks by militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State near its borders with Mali and Burkina Faso.

The violence is part of a wider security crisis in West Africa’s Sahel region that has unnerved Western allies like France, which has poured troops and resources into the region.

People gather to hear the prime minister speak
People gather to hear the prime minister speak

At least 35 civilians, mostly women, were killed in an attack by jihadists in northern Burkina Faso last month, while the country’s army claimed to have killed a dozen militants who were involved in an attack on a military convoy.

Niger has also seen tit-for-tat killings between rival ethnic communities that have been stoked by the jihadist violence and competition for scarce resources.

Saturday’s attacks came on the same day the country’s electoral commission announced the results from the first round of the election to replace President Mahamadou Issoufou, who is stepping down after a decade in power.

Soldiers keepring guard in the area
Soldiers patrolling the area after the attacks

Ruling party candidate Mohamed Bazoum, who came first, expressed his condolences on Sunday to the victims.

The attacks, he said in a video he posted on social media, “remind us that terrorist groups constitute a grave threat to cohesion within communities unlike any other”.

Mr Bazoum will face former president Mahamane Ousmane in a second round run-off expected on 21 February.

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100 Dead In Attacks On Two Western Niger Villages

“Terrorists” killed around 100 people in two villages in western Niger, the latest in a string of civilian massacres that have rocked the jihadist-plagued Tillaberi region, a local mayor said Sunday.

The attacks on the villages of Tchoma Bangou and Zaroumadareye occurred Saturday just as first-round presidential results were announced.

They were waged by “terrorists who came riding about 100 motorcycles,” said Almou Hassane, the mayor of the Tondikiwindi commune that administers both villages.

Security was tight in Niamey during last week’s elections
 AFP / Issouf SANOGO

“There were up to 70 dead in Tchoma Bangou and 30 dead in Zaroumadareye,” he told AFP, adding he had just returned from the scene of the attacks.

The two villages are 120 kilometres (75 miles) north of the capital Niamey.

“There have also been 75 wounded, some of whom have been evacuated to Niamey and to Ouallam for treatment,” Hassane said.

Niger's outgoing president Mahamadou Issoufou will hold an extraordinary security council focused on the attacks, the presidency's office said

Niger’s outgoing president Mahamadou Issoufou will hold an extraordinary security council focused on the attacks, the presidency’s office said
 AFP / Issouf SANOGO

The attackers split into two columns to carry out simultaneous attacks on the two villages, which lie seven kilometres (four miles) apart, the mayor added.

Prime Minister Brigi Rafini led a delegation to the area on Sunday, while President Mahamadou Issoufou will hold an extraordinary security council on Monday, the presidency’s office said.

Local elected officials first reported the raids on Saturday, but the death toll was unclear, with one source putting it at around 50.

Former minister Mohamed Bazoum, who won the first round of Niger's presidential vote, has promised to step up the fight against the jihadists

Former minister Mohamed Bazoum, who won the first round of Niger’s presidential vote, has promised to step up the fight against the jihadists
 AFP / Issouf SANOGO

Issoufou Issaka, a former government minister who comes from the region, said the jihadists carried out the double massacre after local people had lynched two of their number. He gave an estimated death toll of 83.

Deadly attack in Niger

Deadly attack in Niger

One senior regional official said the attack was carried out at midday (1100 GMT), at the same moment the results of the first round of legislative and presidential election were announced.

Election officials announced that ruling party candidate and former minister Mohamed Bazoum won the first round of Niger’s presidential vote, which was held last weekend. Bazoum has promised to step up the fight against the jihadists.

Bazoum said his thoughts were with the victims’ families, adding in a video message that the attacks showed that “terrorist groups constitute a serious threat to cohesion within our communities and a danger unlike any other”.

Issoufou earlier expressed his condolences in a statement on Twitter in which he also condemned the “cowardly and barbaric attack”.

The two villages are in the vast and unstable Tillaberi region, which is located in the “tri-border” area, where the porous borders of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso converge. The area has suffered jihadist assaults for years.

Four thousand people across the three nations died in 2019 from jihadist violence and ethnic bloodshed stirred by Islamists, according to the UN.

Seven Nigerien soldiers were killed in an ambush in Tillaberi on December 21.

Travel by motorbike has been banned in Tillaberi since last January in a bid to prevent incursions by highly mobile jihadists riding on two wheels.

A landlocked state located in the heart of the Sahel, Niger is also being hammered by jihadists from Nigeria, the cradle of a decade-old insurgency launched by Boko Haram.

Boko Haram claimed responsibility for an attack on December 12, that left 34 people dead in the village of Toumour, in southeastern Niger near the border with Nigeria.

Last month 34 villagers were massacred in the southeastern region of Diffa, also on the Nigerian border, the day before municipal and regional elections that had been repeatedly delayed because of poor security.

The second round of the presidential election is scheduled for February 20.

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100 civilians shot dead by militants in Niger ‘revenge attack’

No group has claimed responsibility for the killings, but the militants who have recently been making inroads into Tillabéri are with the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, a franchise of the Islamic State group.

Outgoing Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou.Credit:AP

The entire region has become steadily more dangerous for many of those living in it.

Since rebels and armed Islamic fighters took control of cities in neighbouring Mali in 2012, the terrorist threat has spread across the Sahel, a strip of land south of the Sahara. At the same time, military forces in several Sahelien countries, including Niger, have carried out grave abuses.

Niger’s efforts to contain the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara have been unsuccessful, experts say, and security forces are increasingly pulling back from the region.

Koudize, the Tchoma Bangou resident, said that he had run away with his wife and five children but that the armed men had killed as many of the village’s boys and men as they could.

“We tried to defend ourselves as best we could — two of us were armed,” he said. “But when they killed those two, lots of us fled with our families.”

Koudize said that on December 15, three armed men had come to try to collect money from the villagers — a “tax” that they impose on communities in the area. Speaking in Zarma, he used the word “izifuto” to describe the men, a term Nigeriens translate variously as terrorist, jihadi or bandit.

The villagers killed the men, Koudize said.

“That’s what pushed the jihadists to come in force to take revenge on the village,” he said.

Everyone in the area was fed up with the constant extortion, Koudize said.

“All the villagers in the area decided to fight the terrorists, because even if the authorities send soldiers to protect us, it’s just for a couple of days,” he said. “We can’t live as prisoners anymore.”

Niger held the first round of its presidential election December 27, and the vote is expected to result in the country’s first peaceful, democratic transfer of power.

President Mahamadou Issoufou is stepping down after serving the two terms allowed under the constitution. The governing party candidate, Mohamed Bazoum, will face a former president, Mahamane Ousmane, in a runoff to be held in February.

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Dozens killed in suspected jihadist attack in Niger

Dozens of people were killed in an attack in Niger on Saturday, in a suspected jihadist attack.

The attack took place around 12:00 CET in the Tchomo-Bangou village in Tillabéri, a western region bordering Mali.

“The assailants surrounded the village and killed up to 50 people,” a local radio journalist said anonymously. “The wounded have been evacuated to the hospital in Ouallam.”

It came on the day provisional results for the first round of the presidential election, held on December 27, were released.

Mohamed Bazoum, the candidate for the ruling Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS) and a former interior minister, is in the lead with 39.3 per cent of the votes. Bazoum has vowed to strengthen the country’s fight against Islamist groups.

The second round of the election is to be held on February 21.

Niger has been a target for jihadist attacks for years, particularly in the western and southeastern parts of the country.

On December 21, six days before the presidential poll, seven soldiers were killed in Tillabéri. In May 2020, twenty people, including children, were also killed in two of the region’s villages.

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Niger attacks: At least 20 killed in Tillaberi villages

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A state of emergency has been declared in Tillaberi region since 2017 (file photo)

At least 20 people have been killed in attacks by gunmen on several villages in Niger, local authorities say.

Tidjani Ibrahim Katiella, governor of Tillaberi region, said the assailants were riding motorbikes during the incidents on Saturday.

The unidentified group reportedly looted shops, stole cattle and ordered village inhabitants to flee.

Since 2017 a state of emergency has been in place in Tillaberi, which borders Mali, Burkina Faso and Benin.

Eyewitnesses told local media that the latest attacks took place at about 16:00 local time (15:00 GMT), with gunmen targeting villages including Gadabo and Koira Teguio.

Militants affiliated to the Islamic State and al-Qaeda continue to operate in the region, weakening control by national governments. Attacks by these groups have killed 170 government soldiers since December last year.

Last week the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, warned that jihadist groups in the Sahel were exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to step up attacks.

Combatting militants in the region is seen as important for maintaining security further afield, including Europe. Several African and European countries, along with the US, have set up a military task force to deal with the insurgency.

The UN also has a 13,000-strong peacekeeping force in Mali, which has been targeted by insurgent groups. On Sunday, three Chadian peacekeepers were killed by a roadside bomb. No group has claimed responsibility for the deaths, but such explosives are a preferred tactic of jihadis in the area.

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