On the ground sources have indicated that gunfire broke out at a paramilitary barracks in Niamey, the capital of Niger, with sporadic shots lasting for about one hour. According to statements from local residents, “the shooting began around 21:30 local time (2030 GMT).” Sporadic gunfire could be heard for an hour and then the sounds of shooting stopped. At the beginning of this year, the camp hosted troops from Chad who were at the time on transit to Mali where they have since fought jihadist militants alongside French and West African forces.
Military and government officials could not be reached in order to provide further details, and it was not immediately possible to indicate whether the gunfire was linked to a number of recent attacks in the country which have been carried by Islamist militants. Since the incident, the area around the gendarmerie camp in the northern regions of the capital has been almost deserted. A jeep carrying paramilitary members was seen travelling in the direction of the city centre. A road block has also been set up at the road which heads to the northern part of the city.
With a number of violent attacks occurring in northern Niger of the past month, citizens of the country have begun to express fears of a “war on terror” in their homeland. Tensions were raised by two suicide bombings on May 23 in the north of Niger. The attacks targeted an army base in Agadez and a uranium mine at Arlit which is run by French nuclear giant Areva. More than twenty people were killed in those attacks. Earlier this month, government officials confirmed that twenty convicts escaped during a jailbreak from a prison in Niamey.
Responsibility for both suicide attacks, the first to have occurred in the west African country, have been claimed by two armed Islamist groups: the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and Signatories in Blood. Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar, reported to have organized the two bombings, has threatened to attack Niger again, together with any other country that has troops stationed in Mali, where a French-led military intervention launched in January has seized back control of the northern towns from groups linked to al-Qaeda.
In what appears to be a third attack carried out by suspected Islamist militants, officials in Niger have confirmed that twenty-two inmates escaped from the main prison in Niger’s capital on Saturday. This latest attack comes just days after Islamist militants claimed responsibility for two suicide attacks that were carried out on a military base and a uranium mine in northern Niger on May 23. At least twenty-five people were killed in those attacks. The Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and an al-Qaeda affiliated group, the Signed-in-Blood Battalion, which is led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, have claimed responsibility for the two attacks, indicating that they were in retaliation for Niger’s military intervention in Mali, which effectively drove them out of the northern regions of the country earlier this year.
Justice Minister Marou Amadou has confirmed that during Saturday’s prison break in Niamey, three guards were killed. Although there are conflicting reports pertaining to the events surrounding the prison incident, sources have indicated that weapons had been smuggled into the jail while some of the escapees were prisoners who were facing terrorism charges. According to Niger’s Justice Minister, “it has emerged from initial investigations at the site that the aggressors obviously benefited from outside complicity regarding the weapon introduced into the prison.”
Officials have indicated that the attack began when a prisoner, believed to be a Sudanese member of MUJAO, grabbed a gun from a guard and proceeded to shoot three guards and a civilian. Members of the group who were stationed outside the prison then proceeded to open fire. Sources have indicated that four inmates inside the prison had participated in the attack. Residents reported seeing gunmen firing at guards at the entrance to the prison at around 15:00 local time. Nigerien gendarmes later arrived at the prison in order to help the guards, who remained under fire for about forty-five minutes, while police blocked off all roads leading to the facility.
While little information about the prison escapees has been released, officials have confirmed that Malian national Cheibane Ould Hama, who was convicted of killing four Saudi tourists and a US citizen, was amongst those who escaped. Hama killed four Saudis in an attack on a convoy that was travelling near the border between Mali and Niger in 2009. He killed an American national in 2000 in front of a bar in Niger’s capital. Officials have confirmed that he is currently being “actively sought.” The escaped prisoners are a danger to the region and officials in Niger have called on the citizens of all countries in West Africa to “remain calm” and to exercise their “duty to be vigilant.”
Although Niger has seen a number of kidnappings and attacks occur on its territory in recent years, a number of which have been claimed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the latest string of attacks are directly linked with Niger’s participation in the ongoing war in Mali. Consequently, it is likely that such attacks will continue to be carried out and will likely target Westerners and Western interests.
In a separate incident, officers from Niger’s anti-terror squad killed one person and wounded another on Sunday when they opened fire on what they have indicated was a suspicious-looking four-by-four with tinted windows that had been driving back and forth in front of their headquarters. According to Niger’s Justice Minister, the officers had given the “usual warnings” before firing the shots in order to stop the vehicle. He further indicated that the car’s two other occupants have been taken into custody.
With three attacks occurring in Niger over the last two weeks, MS Risk advises against all travel to the following regions of the country: all areas of the country north of the city of Abalak, including the Air Massif region; the province of Agadez (including the road linking Assamakato Agadez and the city of Agadez); areas of Tahoua province north of the city of Tahoua, including the city itself; the area of Tillaberi province north of Niamey, including the road from Niamey to Gao and the road from Niamey to Menaka; areas within 40km of the border with Nigeria in the provinces of Diffa, Maradi and Zinder. There is a high threat of terrorism and kidnapping in Niger. Any companies and employees currently in Niger are advised to remain vigilant and to continue to monitor the developments.