NIAMEY, 23 March 2021 – The death toll in the series of attacks Sunday that hit three villages on Niger’s border with Mali has risen to 137, according to official sources.
While no group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, authorities in the capital, Niamey, on Tuesday blamed Islamic State militants for the attacks in the Tahoua region.
Eyewitnesses and survivors say the attackers were gunmen who traveled through the villages on motorbikes, indiscriminately targeting, shooting, and killing villagers.
“The attackers shot on everyone and everything that moved,” one eyewitness told reporters.
The 137 civilians were killed in the villages of Bakorat, Intazayene, and Wistane.
It is the deadliest attack in Niger’s many years of fighting Islamic State militants.
“By systematically targeting civilians, these armed bandits are reaching a new level of horror and savagery,” the government of Niger said Tuesday in a statement.
Security analysts suspect that the attacks on the three villages were reprisals in nature, intended to punish villagers for their perceived collaboration with the armed and security forces of Niger seeking to hunt down the militants.
These latest attacks came the same day the constitutional court in Niamey confirmed the victory at the presidential run-off of president-elect Mohamed Bazoum.
The incoming president of Niger promised during the campaigns to fight the widespread insecurity in the country caused by armed groups.
No fewer than 300 people have been killed in similar attacks in Niger, only since the beginning of 2021.
At least 58 people were killed a month ago while returning from a market in the Tillaberi region by militants linked to the al-Qaeda in the Sahel region group.
The militants have killed thousands of people in the Sahel regions of Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Chad, and Nigeria.
Some of the armed groups operating in these countries are affiliated with the Nigeria-based Boko Haram militants who oppose western education.
An offshoot of Boko Haram known as the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) also operates across the Sahel.
Other armed militants in Niger have been linked to Ansaroul Islam and Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslim.
Despite the many differences between them, almost every one of these groups seeks to establish a caliphate, a state governed in accordance with Islamic law in the Sahel.
Responsibility for some attacks has been claimed by members of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) group, which has been previously blamed for attacks in both Mali and Niger.
Despite the deployment of a regional force of over 20,000 soldiers across the Sahel supported by over 5,000 French troops, countries in the Sahel have so far failed to successfully clamp down on the armed groups.
American special forces have also provided training to forces across most of the countries in the Sahel region.