French humanitarian aid group ACTED said seven of its colleagues, along with one of its guides, had been killed in the gun attack in Niger on Sunday.
“It is with profound grief that we confirm the death of seven of our colleagues as well as their guide in Niger who were senselessly and cowardly murdered by armed individuals in the Kouré area, southeast of Niamey, on August 9th 2020,” ACTED said in a statement released on Monday.
A source close to Niger’s environmental services said the assault took place at around 11:30 am (1030 GMT) six kilometres (four miles) east of the town of Koure, which is an hour’s drive from the capital Niamey.
“Most of the victims were shot… We found a magazine emptied of its cartridges at the scene,” the source told us.
“We do not know the identity of the attackers but they came on motorcycles through the bush and waited for the arrival” of the group. The source added that the victims’ vehicle belonged to ACTED.
The source also described the scene of the attack, where bodies were laid side-by-side next to a torched vehicle, which had bullet holes in its rear window.
In Paris, a spokesman for the French army said France’s Barkhane force, which fights jihadists in the Sahel region, had provided support to Niger’s forces.
An us reporter at the scene confirmed that French fighter jets flew overhead later Sunday as Niger’s army searched the vast wooded area.Forensic police were collecting samples ahead of the bodies being moved before night fell, the reporter added.
The office of President Emmanuel Macron said he spoke on the phone with his Niger counterpart Mahamadou Issoufou.
Neighbouring Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita meanwhile strongly condemned the “barbaric act”.
He lamented that “violent extremism” was still rife in the Sahel region “despite the merciless war waged by national armies, the G5 Sahel joint forces and the Barkhane force”.
“Not considered dangerous”
Around 20 years ago, a small herd of West African giraffes, a subspecies distinguished by its lighter colour, found a safe haven from poachers and predators in the Koure area.
Today they number in their hundreds and are a key tourist attraction, enjoying the protection of local people and conservation groups.
A Western humanitarian source based in Niamey said “we all go to Koure on weekend outings because it’s very easy to access”.
“Everyone goes there, even ambassadors, diplomats, teachers… it is not considered a dangerous zone at all. There are NGOs protecting giraffes there,” the source told us.
However, the Tillaberi region is in a hugely unstable location, near the borders of Mali and Burkina Faso.
The region has become a hideout for Sahel jihadist groups such as the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS).
The use of motorcycles has been totally banned since January in an attempt to curb the movements of such jihadists.
Numerous Europeans have been abducted or killed in the volatile Sahel.
Two young Frenchmen, Antoine De Leocour and Vincent Delory, were killed after being kidnapped by jihadists from a restaurant in Niger’s capital Niamey in 2011.