For years, the Giraffe Zone in southwestern Niger was known as a peaceful place for endangered animals and the humans striving to protect them.
A tragic scene played out at a wildlife park in Niger Republic when heavily armed men shot and killed no fewer than eight people including six French aid workers, and a Nigerien guide.
Seven of the victims worked for the French aid group ACTED, which supports people displaced by unrest.
According to officials in the West African country, the victims were attacked on Sunday in a giraffe reserve near Koure, a town about 65km (40 miles) from the capital, Niamey. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
“They were intercepted and killed,” Tidjani Ibrahim Katiella, the governor of Tillaberi region, told Reuters news agency.
A source close to Niger’s environmental services said the assault took place around 11:30am (10:30 GMT).
“Most of the victims were shot … We found a magazine emptied of its cartridges at the scene,” the source said.
“We do not know the identity of the attackers but they came on motorcycles through the bush and waited for the arrival of the tourists,” the source added.
Niger, a West African nation of 23 million, is struggling to contain an Islamist insurgency that has killed thousands in recent years and forced untold numbers of others from their homes.
The region has been under a state of emergency since 2017.
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The coronavirus pandemic has not halted conflict in embattled parts of the Sahel, which lies south of the Sahara Desert. Extremists are scheming to exploit the chaos, analysts say, while cash-strapped governments face a growing public health threat on top of a stubborn security crisis.
Fighters loyal to the Islamic State and al-Qaeda have built strongholds near Niger’s border with Mali and Burkina Faso — forested hideouts that have served as launchpads for strikes on rural villages and army outposts.
But Sunday’s carnage suggested that the militants are operating closer to the capital, Niamey. The Giraffe Zone is about an hour’s drive from the presidential palace.
“The jihadist threat is lurking all around the capital,” said Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim, a West Africa analyst in Niamey with the International Crisis Group think tank.
In May this year, local authorities said at least 20 people were killed in attacks by gunmen on several villages in the region.
The attackers then reportedly looted shops, stole cattle and ordered residents in the villages to flee.
French citizens have been warned against travelling outside of Niger’s capital, Niamey, as militants linked to Boko Haram, Islamic State and al-Qaida continue carrying out attacks across the nation.
The United States has about 1,600 troops in the area to help in the fight, as well as a $100 million drone base near Niger’s center.
American and West African officials warn that militants are training and recruiting people — often through force — across large swaths of ungoverned territory.
Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Nigeria. Attacks could be indiscriminate and could affect western interests, as well as places visited by tourists.
There is a continued threat from extremist groups operating in the region. The al Qaeda-linked terrorist group Jamaat al Ansar al Muslimeen fi Bilad al Sudan, better known as Ansaru, has previously carried out attacks and kidnappings, including that of westerners, across northern Nigeria. The most recent attack was in mid-January 2020 when Ansaru claimed to have killed at least six people, kidnapped dozens, and destroyed several vehicles during an ambush along the Kaduna-Zaira highway in Kaduna State. Details remain unclear and fatality figures may rise.
Most attacks take place in northern and north east Nigeria; there has been an increase in insurgent attacks in Borno State. However, there have been a significant number of attacks elsewhere. Public places where crowds gather have been targeted, including places of worship, markets, shopping malls, hotels, bars, restaurants, football viewing centres, displacement camps, transport terminals, government buildings, security and educational institutions (schools, further education colleges and universities are all regular targets), and international organisations. Attacks have taken place around religious and public holidays in public or crowded places, including places of worship as well as during election periods.
You should avoid places where there are political or other large public gatherings. Be vigilant, remain alert and pay attention to your surroundings at all times. You should follow local news reports and be alert to developments particularly around religious and public holidays. A heavy security presence often indicates areas of particularly high risk. You should avoid affected areas in the immediate aftermath of an attack. You should avoid regular patterns of travel or movement, and aim to only travel during daylight hours.
Recent attacks have included:
- 13 June 2020 – Insurgents attacked Monguno town, killing at least 38 civilians, and targeting the humanitarian hub located in the town
- 9 June 2020 – Insurgents are reported to have killed around 81 civilians in Felo village, Gubio LGA
- 9 February 2020 – Insurgents are reported to have killed at least 30 people and abducted women and children. Victims were killed and abducted while sleeping in their vehicles during an overnight stop in Auno town, on a major highway near Maiduguri
- 14-15 January 2020 – The al Qaeda-linked terrorist group Jamaat al Ansar al Muslimeen fi Bilad al Sudan, better known as Ansaru, killed at least six people and destroyed several vehicles during an ambush along the Kaduna-Zaira highway in Kaduna State
- 13 December 2019 – 4 aid workers from Action Against Hunger (AAH) were executed by Islamic State West Africa (ISWA). Another was reportedly killed in September 2019
- 17 June 2019 – 3 suicide bombers detonated their devices outside a hall in Konduga, Borno State, where football fans were watching a match on television. At least 30 people were killed and 40 injured
- 23 February 2019 – ISWA conducted an indirect fire attack against Maiduguri, focused on the west of the city, in the area around the airport and the military cantonment
- 16 February 2019 – JASDJ conducted a complex attack on a mosque in southern Maiduguri, killing up to 20 people
- 18 November 2018 – ISWA conducted an attack against a military base in Metele and a significant number of soldiers were killed. The group has undertaken similar raids in 2018 with considerable loss of life
- 31 October 2018 – Boko Haram conducted a raid on Dalori IDP camp and surrounding communities near Maiduguri where at least 8 people were killed and a number of women were reportedly abducted from the camp. Hundreds of people were displaced as a result
- 1 March 2018 – Boko Haram, armed with small arms, anti-aircraft weapons and rocket propelled grenades (RPGs), conducted a well-organised attack against a military base in Rann, Borno State. Nine members of the Nigerian security forces and 3 UN consultants were killed. Six members of the Nigerian security forces and at least 4 other humanitarian workers were injured, and a further 3 humanitarian workers were abducted
- 16 February 2018 – 3 suicide bombers detonated their devices at a fish market in Konduga, Borno State. Nineteen civilians were killed and at least 70 others injured
Methods of attack have included coordinated armed assaults, rocket attacks, assassinations, kidnapping, use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), bombings (including by child and female bombers), car bombings and arson. Use of military uniforms and vehicles have been used as a tactic to get close to the intended target.
Since October 2019, there has been an increasing trend of terrorist groups constructing illegal vehicle checkpoints on major supply and commercial routes in Northern Nigeria and attacking vehicles travelling on major roads into Maiduguri, Borno State, including the A3 Maiduguri-Damaturu road. These attacks have directly targeted civilians, security forces and aid workers.
There have been a number of actual and attempted attacks against internally displaced persons, camps, markets, places of worship, security force installations, government and educational facilities in Borno and Adamawa. There has also been an increase in suicide attacks in central Maiduguri, Borno State since October 2016.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
The risk of further terrorist kidnaps is high. Since 2018, the security environment in the north east has deteriorated and there is a heightened risk of kidnap. Kidnaps have included humanitarian and private sector workers.
There are reports that Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa (ISWA) are continuing to actively plan to kidnap foreigners and humanitarian workers. Since September 2019, there has been an increasing number of attacks on Humanitarian actors in North East Nigeria.
Areas of particular concern include northern and north eastern borders with Niger and Chad as well as more widely across Borno, Yobe, Gombe and Adamawa states in north east Nigeria, and some northern and middle belt states including Bauchi, Kano, Kaduna, Kogi and Niger.
Ansaru, Boko Haram and ISWA have carried out a number of kidnaps in Nigeria. Kidnappings could occur anywhere in areas where terrorist groups have a presence. In the past five years several foreign nationals and humanitarian workers have been kidnapped in the north of Nigeria, including in Adamawa state, Bauchi state, Katsina state, Kano state and Kebbi state. Some, including two British nationals, have been killed by their captors. In December 2019, four Nigerian aid workers who had been held hostage since July were reportedly killed. Another aid worker was reportedly killed in September.
If you’re working or travelling in areas where the FCO advises against all travel, or all but essential travel, then you should be aware of the risk of terrorist kidnapping.
You should exercise vigilance when travelling, when in crowded public places, including religious gatherings and insecure spaces like places of worship, markets, shopping malls, hotels, bars, restaurants, transport hubs and camps for displaced people. You should avoid regular patterns of travel or movement,and aim to travel only during daylight hours.
Jama’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’wah wa’l-Jihad (JASDJ) have also taken hostages from neighbouring Cameroon and the Diffa region of Niger, and continue to maintain an intent and capability to conduct kidnaps in Chad.
The long-standing policy of the British government is not to make substantive concessions to hostage takers. The British government considers that paying ransoms and releasing prisoners builds the capability of terrorist groups and finances their activities. This can, in turn, increase the risk of further hostage-taking. The Terrorism Act (2000) makes payments to terrorists illegal.
Terrorist groups operating in Nigeria
Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa (ISWA)
Boko Haram or JASDJ is an Islamist terrorist group operating in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger. The group aspire to establish a Sharia State in Nigeria and West Africa, de-stabilise the Nigerian government and remove western influence from the country.
The group was formerly linked to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). On 12 March 2015, Daesh (formerly referred to as ISIL) accepted a pledge of allegiance by Boko Haram. In August 2016, the group split into 2 factions: Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA) and JASDJ or Boko Haram.
ISWA is affiliated with ISIS core in Iraq and Syria and has expressed an intention to target Nigerian government, Christian and western interests. ISWA have launched a series of successful attacks against Nigerian military locations, increased their freedom of movement across Borno and Yobe states, and taken multiple hostages, including two humanitarian hostages who they executed in 2018.
Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis Sudan (Vanguard for the protection of Muslims in Black Africa) (Ansaru)
Ansaru is an Islamist terrorist organisation based in northern Nigeria, and is proscribed by the UK. It emerged in 2012 and is motivated by an anti-Nigerian Government and anti-Western agenda.
Ansaru is broadly aligned with Al Qaeda. Since 2012, the group has kidnapped at least 8 hostages, mainly Europeans. They are believed to have killed a number of hostages, including 2 British nationals.
The terrorist threat in the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin
There is a very high threat of kidnapping by terrorist groups operating in the Sahel region. A number of western nationals including tourists, NGO workers and diplomats have been kidnapped in the Sahel over the last ten years, and several are still being held. Some, including several British nationals, have been killed by their captors.
Those engaged in humanitarian aid work, journalism, government or business sectors are viewed as legitimate targets. If you’re kidnapped, the reason for your presence is unlikely to serve as a protection or secure your safe release.
There are a number of terrorist groups active in the region. These include Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM), Islamic State West Africa (ISWA), Islamic State Greater Sahara (ISGS), Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Al Murabitoun, Ansar Dine and Boko Haram.
These groups are capable of carrying out attacks and kidnaps over long distances. Kidnapping for ransom is the primary source of finance for Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM). Criminal gangs also carry out kidnapping for terrorist groups in return for financial rewards.