Islamic State’s West African branch claimed responsibility for an ambush that killed 28 soldiers this week in Niger, as the militant group seeks to establish roots in the impoverished Sahel region.
Tuesday’s ambush occurred near Tongo Tongo, where fighters from an Islamic State affiliate killed four US Special Forces and four Nigerian soldiers in an ambush in October 2017.
Government soldiers were pursuing gunmen who earlier attacked a high security prison, when a vehicle hit a mine and they came under fire, government spokesman Abdourahamane Zakaria told Reuters.
The claim of responsibility was translated to English and published on the SITE Intelligence website.
Islamist militants loyal to Adnan Abu Waleed al-Sahrawi, leader of Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, operate along Mali’s border with Burkina Faso and Niger, in the vicinity of Tuesday’s attack.
The other regional group claiming allegiance to Islamic State — IS West Africa Province or ISWAP — is in south-east Niger.
The attack, one of the deadliest against the military in Niger’s west in recent years, is a setback for military operations trying to restore order in a region plagued by jihadist groups and allied criminal gangs.
Despite years of deployments of French, US and UN forces, Africa’s Sahel region remains a tinderbox of Islamist fighters, ethnic militias and criminal smuggling rackets.
The border areas where Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali meet are dangerous and violence is worsening across the region. Suspected Islamist gunmen killed at least 10 in apparently sectarian attacks on churches in neighbouring Burkina Faso this week.