Extremists kill 14 in attack on convoy in Niger

It is the first major attack in the country since 71 soldiers were killed in a massive ambush earlier this month

TOPSHOT - Soldiers stand guard at sunset as France's President and Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou (unseen) take part in a military ceremony at the Martyr Quarter on December 22, 2019, in Niamey, to pay homage to 71 Nigerien soldiers massacred in an attack on December 10 at the Inates military camp in the Sahel country's western Tillaberi region. / AFP / POOL / Ludovic MARIN
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Extremists on motorcycles killed 14 security force members who were escorting election officials in the West African nation of Niger, authorities said on Thursday.

The attack took place on Wednesday night near Sanam, which is about 200 kilometres from the capital of Niamey, according to a government statement.

Officials from the national electoral commission were in the area to conduct a census before next year’s vote.

The victims were seven military police officers and seven members of the national guard, the statement said.

Niger has long been vulnerable to extremism because it shares a border with Nigeria, where Boko Haram insurgents have been carrying out attacks for a decade.

But now Niger is increasingly threatened by extremists from an ISIS group in the region, which carried out a 2017 attack that killed four US soldiers stationed in the country.

The same group of extremists, who are active along the Niger-Mali border, also claimed the unprecedented massacre at the army camp earlier this month that left 71 dead.

Niger’s military has undergone training for years from both US and French forces, but the December 10 attack near the town of Inates underscored the threat extremists still pose.

French President Emmanuel Macron has postponed a meeting with Niger’s president and other regional leaders until January.

Niger is also a member of the G5 Sahel regional military force — along with Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Mauritania — which has unsuccessfully tried to drive extremist groups out of the vast region south of the Sahara desert.

The cross-border joint force was launched in July 2017, but has been beset by financial shortfalls and other challenges.

The crisis across the Sahel has deepened over the past year, particularly in Mali and Burkina Faso. Attacks on military outposts became so frequent that Mali’s president shut down the most remote and vulnerable as part of a military reorganisation.