France launches counterterrorism investigation into attack on aid workers in Niger | World news

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The French anti-terrorism prosecutor has opened an investigation into the murder of six French aid workers in a wildlife reserve in Niger, as Emmanuel Macron condemned what he called a “cowardly” attack.A local driver working with the French humanitarian group ACTED and a guide were also killed in the attack, which took place on Sunday morning at a reserve known as the Giraffe Zone, which is home to the last population of African giraffes in the west, in the south. western region of Kouré. Motorcycle attackers ambushed the group as they passed through the reserve, which is in an area considered safe by the Nigerien government.

Images broadcast on the French television channel TF1 showed the burnt remains of a 4 × 4 vehicle sprayed with bullets.

Jihadist groups did not claim responsibility for the murder but are widely suspected, in a country that has been plagued by a jihadist insurgency. In the clearest sign to date that France believes a militant group was involved, France’s counterterrorism prosecutor’s office said it was opening an investigation into suspicion of a terrorist group’s involvement.

In a statement posted on Twitter, the French president said: “Several of our compatriots and Nigeriens were cowardly murdered yesterday in Niger in a deadly attack. I share the pain of their families and loved ones. Some were hired for the most selfless mission: to help people.

Macron also pledged to support the restless West African nation in a Sunday night phone call with its president, Mahamadou Issoufou. The two leaders have promised that “all means are and will be used to shed light on the circumstances of this deadly attack,” according to a statement released by Macron’s office.

A French military source told Reuters that Nigerien and French forces searched the reserve and surrounding areas in pursuit of the gunmen.

Aid workers were all employed by ACTED, who said on Monday: “Aid workers should never be a target. Our colleagues have worked to support the Nigerien people facing poverty, driven by values ​​of humanity and solidarity.

The Kouré Giraffe Guides Association said its president, Kadri Abdou, was killed in the attack. “We mourn and think of the victims and their families to whom we send our deepest condolences, and in particular to the family of Kadri, our friend,” he said on Facebook.

Jihadist attacks have increased in the volatile southwestern region of Tillabéri in Niger, near the borders of Mali and Burkina Faso, where jihadist groups have settled.

ISIS is one of many terrorist actors in general in the Sahel region, also covering Mauritania and Chad, killing thousands and displacing millions in one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. About 13 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, including 4.5 million internally displaced people.

France, a former colonial power in the French-speaking region, has deployed thousands of troops in Niger and the Sahel since 2013, but violence continues to increase. Macron said France’s determination to fight armed terrorist groups remains steadfast.

West Africa’s giraffe population has been reduced by drought and intense poaching, although in recent years numbers have rebounded from just 50 in 1996 to over 600, thanks to the protection of local communities and the efforts of conservation groups.

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