Seven Niger police officers and four soldiers were killed on Tuesday in two separate attacks near the country’s borders with Burkina Faso and Libya, the government said Wednesday.

Niger’s interior ministry said “unidentified armed bandits” attacked the Petelkole police station near Burkina Faso in western Niger and a military base in Djado in the country’s desert-covered far north.

Seven police officers died at Petelkole and 10 were injured, with four in a serious condition, the ministry added in a statement, in an attack that bore the hallmarks of jihadist assaults that have long plagued the area.

Six vehicles — including three belonging to police officers — were torched and the attackers made off with another three vehicles, the ministry said.

The statement added that shops and hangers home to businesses surrounding the police station were also set on fire.

In the second attack in Djado, the ministry said four soldiers died and another was injured, with two vehicles also taken away.

“Security measures have been immediately strengthened in the two areas,” the interior ministry said.

Other sources had earlier said seven police officers had died and another 16 had been injured in the Petelkole attack.

“The provisional toll of this attack is seven police officers dead and sixteen wounded,” said a municipal official who visited the scene of the incident.

A local official had also told AFP that “heavily armed men” arrived “in large numbers” during their assault on the police station.

The Petelkole attackers, believed to be fighters of the Islamic State (IS) group raging in the region, seized three vehicles and torched several others, according to the city official.

The Petelkole attack took place in the Tera district of the Tillaberi region, a vast area on the borders of Burkina Faso and Mali, which is regularly targeted by jihadist groups affiliated with al-Qaeda or the Islamic State group.

– Regional instability –

On March 16, at least 21 people, including two policemen, were killed in an attack by suspected jihadists on a bus and truck near the same police station, according to an official report.

In October 2021, three Nigerien police officers were killed and several others injured, and in May 2017, two police officers and a civilian were killed in an attack on the same post.

Niger’s vast and sparsely populated Djado region is not a jihadist target but is a corridor for trafficking people, weapons and drugs to Libya and Europe.

The area is also home to gold mines that attract thousands of Nigeriens and nationals from neighbouring countries.

Local authorities have recently denounced the “deterioration of the security situation” on major roads where armed gangs roam.

The huge and unstable region of Tillaberi, around 100,000 square kilometres (39,000 square miles) in size, is located in the so-called “three borders” area between Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali and has been the scene of several bloody attacks by jihadist movements since 2017.

Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum, in a new approach, has initiated dialogue with jihadist leaders in an attempt to keep the peace.

But the military response continues, with some 12,000 soldiers fighting in a dozen anti-jihadist operations, nearly half of them along the more than 1,400 kilometres of borders with Mali and Burkina Faso.

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© Agence France-Presse