Niger was again the target on Monday of attacks by suspected jihadists which left 58 dead in the west of the country, near Mali. They were mostly civilians. Monday “in the afternoon, groups of armed individuals not yet identified intercepted four vehicles carrying passengers returning from the weekly market of Banibangou leaving respectively for the villages of Chinégodar and Darey-Daye”, indicates a government statement. read Tuesday night on public television. “These individuals cowardly and cruelly carried out the targeted execution of the passengers. In the village of Darey-daye, they killed people and set fire to “granaries”, he adds.
“The toll of these barbaric acts” is “58 people killed, one person injured, several granaries [à céréales] and two vehicles set on fire, two vehicles carried away ”, according to the government.
Tillabéri, soft underbelly of the fight against terrorism in the Sahel
Banibangou is home to one of the largest weekly markets in the Tillabéri region, near the Malian border. Located in the so-called “three borders” area between Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali, the Tillabéri region has for years been the scene of bloody actions by jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State ( EI).
The government decreed a “national mourning of three days” from Wednesday and called “the population to be more vigilant”, reaffirming “its determination to continue relentlessly the fight against crime in all its forms”. An extraordinary National Security Council has also been convened and is being held this Wednesday.
Elected head of state on February 21 in the second round of the presidential election, Mohamed Bazoum pledged to fight against insecurity, one of the greatest challenges for Niger, a Sahelian country among the poorest in the world, which must also fight against the Islamists of the Nigerian group Boko Haram in its south-eastern part. “We are on the right track,” said his predecessor and mentor Mahamadou Issoufou at the end of his two terms, despite the continuing attacks.
300 dead in two years
The Tillabéri region has been the target of the worst jihadist attacks in Niger. On January 2, between the two rounds of the presidential election, 100 people were killed in attacks on two villages in the commune of Mangaïzé, one of the worst massacres of civilians in Niger.
A year earlier, on January 9, 2020, 89 Nigerien soldiers had died in the attack on the Chinégodar military camp. And a month earlier, on December 10, 2019, 71 Nigerien soldiers were killed in an attack in Inates, another locality in the Tillabéri region. These two attacks on the army, which had traumatized the country, had been claimed by the jihadists of the IS. The Tillabéri region remains unstable, despite major efforts to try to secure it.
A contingent of 1,200 soldiers from the Chadian army, reputed to be the most seasoned in the region, is to be deployed in the three border zone, as part of the G5 Sahel grouping together five countries (Mauritania, Mali, Burkina, Niger, Chad) who strive to cooperate in the anti-jihadist fight since 2015.
Like its neighbors Mali and Burkina, also very affected by the abuses of jihadist groups, Niger benefits from the support of the French anti-jihadist operation Barkhane, which has 5,100 men deployed in the Sahel. France has a base at Niamey airport, from which fighter jets and armed drones operate. French President Emmanuel Macron pledged in February, on the sidelines of the last G5 Sahel summit in N’Djamena, to maintain the strength of this force.
The United States also has a large drone base in Agadez, giving the United States a surveillance platform for the entire Sahel. In October 2017, four American soldiers and five Nigerien soldiers were killed in an ambush in Tongo Tongo, a village in the three border zone.