More than 20 killed in attacks in west of Niger

Motorcycle bandits killed 20 villagers in a series of attacks in the Tillaberi region of western Niger, the governor told AFP on Sunday.

An unknown number of “armed bandits” attacked three villages on Sunday around 5.30 p.m. local time (4.30 p.m. GMT), said Governor Tidjani Ibrahim Katiella.

He said the attackers “looted stores” and looted grain and livestock before heading north.

A local source named targeted villages like Gadabo, Zibane Koira-Zeno and Zibane-Tegui, all administered by Anzourou, a commune about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the town of Tillaberi, the main town in western Niger and about 100 kilometers from the border with Mali.

Last January, the Nigerien authorities restricted the circulation of motorcycles day and night in order to suppress the jihadists operating in the region.

They also closed a number of food markets which they claimed “supplied the terrorists with fuel and grain”.

The government recently extended the state of emergency in the region for the first time in 2017.

According to official statistics, 174 soldiers have been killed in three attacks in the area since last December in Chinegodar, where 89 were killed on January 8, Inates (71 dead on December 10) and Sanam (14 dead on December 24).

ISIS claimed responsibility for the three attacks.

In March, Malian and Nigerian soldiers joined forces with French forces in the region for an operation that mobilized approximately 5,000 soldiers for the ongoing deployment of Operation Barkhane.

The French general staff attributes to the anti-terrorist operation the elimination of “a large number of terrorists”.

The French-led Operation Barkhane is conducting counterterrorism operations in the Sahel states, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned last week that jihadist groups in the Sahel were exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to intensify attacks, according to documents consulted by AFP.

António Guterres called for better coordination between anti-jihadist forces fighting a group of armed groups.

“Terrorist groups are taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to intensify their attacks and challenge state authority throughout the sub-region,” said António Guterres, citing an area straddling Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso as a major concern.

Guterres said that terrorist groups were exploiting the spread virus for propaganda and action purposes.

The pandemic saw the closing of the border between Mali and Mauritania, forcing to postpone the operations of the so-called anti-jihadist force of the G5-Sahel.

The G5 is a force of 5,000 men with troops from Chad, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali and Mauritania who are cooperating with French troops to fight against a growing Islamist insurgency.