More than 20 killed in attacks in west of Niger
Bandits riding motorbikes killed 20 villagers in a string of attacks in Niger's western region of Tillaberi, the governor there told AFP on Sunday.
An unknown number of "armed bandits" attacked three villages on Sunday at around 5:30 pm local time (1630 GMT), said governor Tidjani Ibrahim Katiella.
He said that the assailants "pillaged shops" and looted cereal as well as cattle before heading off towards the north.
One local source named villages targeted as Gadabo, Zibane Koira-Zeno and Zibane-Tegui, all administered by Anzourou, a commune some 50 kilometres (30 miles) from Tillaberi city, the main town in western Niger and some 100 kilometres from the border with Mali.
Last January, Niger authorities restricted motorcycle traffic by day as well as night in a bid to crack down on jihadists operating in the region.
They also closed down a number of food markets they said were "supplying terrorists with fuel and cereals," according to the governor.
The government recently extended a state of emergency in the region first brought in in 2017.
According to official statistics, 174 soldiers have been killed in three attacks in the zone since last December at Chinegodar, where 89 were killed on January 8, Inates (71 dead on December 10) and Sanam (14 dead on December 24.)
The Islamic State claimed all three attacks.
In March, Malian and Niger soldiers joined forces with French forces in the area for an operation which mobilised around 5,000 troops under the ongoing Operation Barkhane deployment.
French general staff credited the counter-terrorism operation with eliminating "a large number of terrorists".
The French-led Operation Barkhane is leading counter-terror operations across Sahel states Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres warned last week that jihadist groups in the Sahel are exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to step up attacks, according to documents seen by AFP.
Guterres urged better coordination among anti-jihadist forces fighting an array of armed groups.
"Terrorist groups are taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to intensify their attacks and to challenge state authority throughout the sub-region," said Guterres, citing an area straddling Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso as a major concern.
Guterres said terror groups were exploiting the virus spread for both propaganda and action purposes.
The pandemic has seen the border between Mali and Mauritania being shut, forcing operations of the so-called G5-Sahel anti-jihadist force to be postponed.
The G5 is a 5,000-strong force with troops from Chad, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali and Mauritania cooperating with French troops to combat a growing Islamist insurgency.
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