Attacks foiled in Niamey and Diffa, Niger defense ministry says

Security forces in Niger foiled three weekend attacks in the capital Niamey and in the southeastern city of Diffa, the government said.

Western embassies had issued warnings on Saturday over possible attacks in the Sahel country.

Five people including “two known terrorists” were arrested near Niamey’s international airport on Saturday, the defense ministry said in a statement read on state radio on Monday, June 3.

“These terrorists intended to perpetrate attacks in the city of Niamey or its environs,” the statement said.

On Sunday, two attacks were thwarted in the Diffa area, according to the ministry.

Overnight, four would-be suicide bombers were “neutralized,” one near a fuel depot and three at the Diffa airport, the ministry said. Local officials had earlier said all four militants were killed near the depot, which stores oil and gas for the region.

Also in Diffa, an attack on a church was averted on Sunday morning, the defense ministry said. “The suicide bomber and his guide were arrested outside the church. They had an explosives belt and its detonator” as well as a firearm and ammunition, it said.

An elected official had earlier told AFP that “two suspected Boko Haram elements” were arrested but that “explosive belts were found in a search of an address that they gave to the police.”

The Islamic State West Africa Province faction of Boko Haram is the most active insurgent group in the Diffa region, carrying out a string of attacks in recent months.

The defense ministry said the regional Multinational Joint Task Force – which comprises soldiers from Niger, Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon – was carrying out a sweep on land and from the air “against Boko Haram positions in the Lake Chad basin.”

Earlier, the MNJTF said it had killed 20 ISWAP militants in the northeast of Nigeria’s Borno state, near the Niger border. That came after two days of ISWAP attacks on three Nigerian military bases.

The MNJTF launched Operation Yancin Tafki on February 21 to battle the insurgents. It has said the cross-border operation is aimed at “making islands and other settlements in Lake Chad untenable for Boko Haram terrorists.”

Niger faces insurgency on two fronts: the southeastern Diffa region near Lake Chad is increasingly frequently hit by Nigeria-based insurgents, while Mali-based militants, some linked to al-Qaeda, are active in the west of the country and the wider Sahel region. Attacks carried out by Islamic State-affiliated militants in the Sahel have previously been attributed to Islamic State in the Greater Sahara but ISIS has begun to attribute attacks in western Niger to its Wilayah of West Africa.

Boko Haram, the jihadist group that began its bloody insurgency in northeastern Nigeria in 2009, has since spread into neighboring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, prompting a regional military response. Boko Haram split into two factions in mid-2016, but ISIS central only gives formal backing to the ISWAP faction, which largely focuses on attacking military and government targets.

Since 2009, more than 27,000 people have been killed and two million others displaced, sparking a dire humanitarian crisis in the region. On April 30, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism Nathan A. Sales said that the U.S. assesses that Boko Haram and ISWAP “have been responsible for over 35,000 deaths since 2011.”

Islamic State puts the Sahel in West Africa – for now

With reporting from AFP

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