Eight people, including employees of a French humanitarian group, were killed on Sunday by gunmen on motorcycles in an area of Niger that is home to the last West African giraffes, officials said.
“There are eight dead: two Nigeriens including a guide and a driver, while the other six are French,” the governor of the Tillabéri region told AFP.
The French presidency confirmed that its nationals were among the dead, without giving a figure.
French humanitarian group ACTED said several of its workers were among those killed during a tourist outing.
“Among the eight people killed in Niger, several were temporary employees,” said NGO lawyer Joseph Breham.
It is believed to be the first such attack on Westerners in the region, a popular tourist attraction in the former French colony thanks to its unique population of giraffes from West Africa or Niger.
“We are managing the situation, we will give more information later,” Governor Tidjani Ibrahim Katiella said, without indicating who was behind the attack.
A source close to Niger’s Environmental Services said the assault took place around 11:30 a.m. (10:30 a.m. GMT) six kilometers (four miles) east of the town of Koure, which is an hour’s drive from the river. Niamey capital.
“Most of the victims were shot … We found a magazine emptied of its cartridges at the scene,” the source told AFP.
“We do not know the identity of the attackers but they came by motorbike through the bush and awaited 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 burnt out vehicle, which had bullet holes in its rear window.
In Paris, a French army spokesperson said the French Barkhane force, which combats jihadists in the Sahel region, has provided support to Nigerien forces.
An AFP reporter at the scene confirmed that French fighter jets flew over Sunday later as the Nigerien army searched the vast wooded area.
Forensic police were taking samples before the bodies were moved before dark, the reporter added.
President Emmanuel Macron’s office said it spoke on the phone with his Nigerien counterpart Mahamadou Issoufou.
The president of neighboring Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, for his part strongly condemned “the barbaric act”.
He deplored that “violent extremism” is still rife in the Sahel region “despite the ruthless war waged by the national armies, the joint forces of the G5 Sahel and the Barkhane force”.
“Not considered dangerous”
About 20 years ago, a small herd of West African giraffes, a subspecies distinguished by its lighter color, found refuge from poachers and predators in the Koure region.
Today, they number in the hundreds and are a key tourist attraction, benefiting from the protection of local people and conservation groups.
A Western humanitarian source based in Niamey said that “we all go to Koure on weekends because it is very easy to get to.”
“Everyone goes there, even the ambassadors, diplomats, teachers … it’s not considered a danger zone at all. There are NGOs protecting the giraffes there,” the source said. to AFP.
However, the Tillaberi region is in an extremely unstable location, near the borders of Mali and Burkina Faso.
The region has become a hideout for jihadist groups in the Sahel 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 these jihadists.
Many Europeans have been kidnapped or killed in the volatile Sahel.
Two young French people, Antoine De Leocour and Vincent Delory, were killed after being kidnapped by jihadists in a restaurant in the Nigerian capital Niamey in 2011.