Niamey: Gunmen on motorcycles have killed six French aid workers, a Nigerien guide and a driver in a wildlife park in Niger, officials said.
The group had travelled to Kouré reserve in an area known as the Giraffe Zone, home to the only remaining population of West African giraffes, 65 kilometres south-east of Niamey, the capital.
But they had been there for less than an hour when they were shot, their car set aflame and their bodies left in the sand.
“It was horrific. We couldn’t even look at the bodies,” said Djibo Hama, a spokesman for the Association of Kouré’s Giraffe Guides, who saw the aftermath of the attack. “They had been brutally shot with bullets, but also flamethrowers had charred the car and some of the people. It was terrifying to see them lying on the ground in their own blood.”
The six worked for an international aid group, Niger’s Defence Minister Issoufou Katambé said. Officials had earlier described them as tourists.
Separately, a spokesman for French humanitarian aid group ACTED said its staff members were involved.
One of those killed was Kadri Abdou, president of the Association of Kouré’s Giraffe Guides, according to an announcement posted on Facebook.
“Kadri, along with a group of six French tourists and their Nigerien driver, was attacked and killed by a terrorist commando in the giraffe zone,” it read. “We are distressed and are thinking of the victims and their families, to whom we offer our most sincere condolences — especially the family of Kadri, our friend.”
No one has immediately claimed responsibility for the assault. But France and other countries have warned people against travelling to parts of Niger where militants including Boko Haram and an affiliate of Islamic State operate.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s office confirmed that French nationals had been killed in Niger. It said Macron spoke on the phone with Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou, but provided no further details.
The Association of Koure Giraffe Reserve Guides issued a statement describing the attackers as a “unit of terrorists” and saying the dead included its president, Kadri Abdou.
France’s TF1 television channel broadcast images that it said were taken from the scene showing the burnt-out remains of a 4×4 vehicle with bullet holes in the side.
The reserve south-east of the capital is a popular attraction in Niger, a huge country that borders seven states in an unstable region including Libya, Mali, Chad, Algeria and Nigeria.
Militants linked to Islamic State killed four US soldiers in an ambush in Niger near the border with Mali in October 2017, an attack that increased scrutiny of US counter-terrorism operations there.
France, a former colonial power in the region, also launched a coalition of West African and European allies in June to fight Islamist militants in the Sahel region that includes Niger.
It has deployed thousands of troops in the arid region south of the Sahara desert since 2013. But militant violence has been on the rise.