Attacks by suspected jihadists in villages in Niger’s Tahoua region have left 137 people dead, the government said, in another massacre that underscored the enormous security challenges facing new president Mohamed Bazoum.
“By systematically treating civilian populations as targets now, these armed bandits have gone a step further in horror and brutality,” government spokesman Zakaria Abdourahamane said in a statement read on public television on Monday.
The increase in the death toll, which had been given as at least 60 earlier on Monday, would make Sunday’s attacks the alleged deadliest jihadist massacre ever in Niger.
Armed men arriving on motorcycles attacked the villages of Intazayene, Bakorat and Wistane near the border with Mali, shooting “anything that moved,” a local official said.
“The government condemns these brutal acts perpetrated by individuals who know neither the faith nor the law,” said Abdourahamane.
Less than a week ago, he read another grim announcement about attacks that ultimately killed at least 66 people.
The government declared three days of national morning starting Tuesday.
“Reinforced safety and hygiene measures will be taken in the region and an investigation has been opened to find the perpetrators of these cowardly and criminal acts and bring them to court,” the government statement said.
The poorest country in the world according to the UN development ranking of 189 countries, Niger is also grappling with jihadist insurgencies that have spread from Mali and Nigeria.
Hundreds of lives have been lost, nearly half a million people have fled their homes and devastating damage has been inflicted on the former French colony.
The three villages are located in the arid region of Tahoua, west of Niger, bordering the Tillaberi region in a border region known for its jihadist attacks.