“Armed bandits” have killed at least 18 civilians in western Niger during an attack on their transport vehicle, officials said.
Unidentified “armed bandits” on motorbikes attacked a truck travelling between villages in the Tillaberi region, which lies in a flashpoint zone where the frontiers of Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali converge, the Interior Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.
It said the attack happened on Sunday and “the provisional toll of the attack is 18 people killed, eight injured” with five of those injured admitted to hospital in serious condition.
The truck was then set on fire, the ministry said, adding that a search was under way to find the attackers.
A local lawmaker, who gave a far lower toll earlier in the day, said that the vehicle targeted by the attackers had been returning from Niger’s capital Niamey, carrying passengers from four local villages as well as their cargo.
Local officials have blamed a series of massacres of civilians since last year on Daesh affiliate in West Africa, which along with al Qaeda-linked militants has been responsible for spiralling violence across the Sahelian countries of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso.
Sahel region insurgencies
Western Niger has for years faced militant attacks, despite the efforts of international forces deployed to the wider Sahel region to fight the insurgents.
Niger, the world’s poorest country according to the UN’s Human Development Index, has to contend with two militant insurgencies.
It has faced groups such as the Daesh in the Greater Sahara in the west, as well as Boko Haram and the Daesh West Africa Province in the southeast, near the border with Nigeria.
Niger’s neighbour Mali has been struggling to contain a militant insurgency that first emerged in 2012, before spreading to Burkina Faso and Niger.
Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed and two million people have been displaced by the Sahel-wide conflict, of which Mali remains the epicentre.