At least 100 people, including women and children, were killed on Saturday in attacks on two villages in western Niger, following one of the deadliest days in recent memory for a country ravaged by Islamist violence.
Prime Minister Brigi Rafini announced the death toll on national television on a visit to the zone on Sunday. He did not say who was responsible, according to Reuters.
Security sources said on Saturday that the victims were killed in simultaneous raids by suspected Islamist militants on the villages of Tchombangou and Zaroumdareye near the border with Mali.
Niger’s Interior Minister Alkache Alhada said the attacks are believed to be in retaliation for the earlier killing of two fighters by villagers.
Saturday’s attacks came on the same day that the electoral commission announced the results from the first round of the election to replace President Mahamadou Issoufou, who is stepping down after a decade in power.
Ruling party candidate Mohamed Bazoum, who finished first, expressed his condolences on Sunday to the victims. The attacks, he said in a video he posted on social media, “remind us that terrorist groups constitute a grave threat to cohesion within communities unlike any other”.
The area has been characterised with high level of insecurity. Three years ago, US and Nigerian special forces soldiers were killed there by jihadists.
The country has also seen tit-for-tat killings between rival ethnic communities that have been heightened by the jihadist violence and competition for scarce resources.
Travel by motorbike is banned in the region in a bid to prevent lightning attacks by highly mobile rebel fighters on two wheels.
Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, shaken by numerous coups d’état since independence from France in 1960, has never experienced a democratic succession between two presidents
The sub-Saharan country has suffered repeated attacks by militants linked to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State near its borders with Mali and Burkina Faso.
The violence is part of a wider security crisis in West Africa’s Sahel region that has unnerved Western allies like France, who have poured troops and resources into the region.