'Many' civilians killed in Niger gun attack

Nigerien soldiers

Nigerien soldiers patrol outside the Diffa airport in South-East Niger, near the Nigerian border, on December 23, 2020.

Photo credit: Issouf Sanogo | AFP


Gunmen killed a significant number of civilians in Niger on Saturday, authorities said, in the latest attack to rock the landlocked Sahel nation's troubled western Tillaberi region.

"The attack took place around noon (1100 GMT) and there were deaths," a senior regional official told AFP, without giving an exact toll or further details of the attack.

A local official said "many civilians were killed" in the attack on Tchomo-Bangou, a village near the Mali border, but did not give details.

"The attackers came to surround the village and killed up to 50 people. The wounded were taken to Ouallam hospital," a local radio station journalist said on condition of anonymity.

The attack came on the same day election officials announced results for the first round of Niger's presidential vote that put ruling party candidate and former government minister Mohamed Bazoum in the clear lead, with a runoff set for next month.

Thousands killed

The vast and unstable Tillaberi region is located in the so-called tri-border area, a jihadist-plagued zone where the porous borders of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso converge.

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 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.

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