The death toll from Thursday’s attack by suspected jihadists on a Niger army base has risen to at least 89, four security sources said, surpassing a raid last month that killed 71 soldiers as the deadliest against Nigerien forces in years.
The government said Thursday that 25 soldiers had been killed, according to a provisional toll, while successfully repelling the attack by assailants aboard motorcycles and other vehicles in the western town of Chinagodrar.
Four security sources told Reuters that at least 89 members of Niger’s security forces killed in the attack were buried Saturday in the capital, Niamey.
One source said the actual death toll was most likely higher because some soldiers were buried immediately Thursday in Chinagodrar.
Defense Minister Issoufou Katambe said that an updated death toll would be announced after a national security council meeting on Sunday.
The Chinagodrar attack, coming a month after the raid in nearby Inates by fighters from an Islamic State affiliate that killed 71 soldiers, highlights the deteriorating security situation near Niger’s borders with Mali and Burkina Faso.
Attacks have risen fourfold over the past year in Niger, killing nearly 400 people, according to data from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, a nonprofit research organization, despite efforts by international forces to stop militants linked to Islamic State and al-Qaida.
French fighter jets were scrambled Thursday to scare off the attackers, France’s regional task force said, possibly averting an even heavier casualty count.
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, but Katambe said Friday that the army would launch a new offensive against jihadists.
West Africa’s Sahel region, a semiarid belt beneath the Sahara, has been in crisis since 2012, when ethnic Tuareg rebels and loosely aligned jihadists seized the northern two-thirds of Mali, forcing France to intervene to temporarily beat them back.
Source: Voice of America