At least 70 killed in simultaneous militant attacks in two Niger villages

At least 70 people were killed in simultaneous attacks on two villages in Niger. The village of Tchombangou and Zaroumdareye, near the border zone with Mali were attacked by suspected Islamist militants.

There have been several recent violent incidents in Africa’s Sahel region, carried out by militant groups.

France said on Saturday that two of its soldiers were killed in Mali.

France has been leading a coalition of West African and European allies against Islamist militants in the Sahel.

But the region continues to be affected by ethnic violence, banditry, and human and drug trafficking.

In light of Saturday’s attacks, Interior Minister Alkache Alhada said soldiers had been sent to the area.

Niger’s Tillabéri region, where the villages are situated, lies within the so-called tri-border area between Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, which has been plagued by jihadi attacks in recent years.

Travel by motorbike has been banned in the region for a year, as part of efforts to stop incursions by Islamic militants, who often launch attacks from the vehicles.

Areas of Niger are also facing repeated attacks by jihadists from Nigeria, where the government is fighting an insurgency by Boko Haram.

Last month, members of the group killed at least 27 people in Niger’s south-eastern Diffa region.

The latest attacks in Tillabéri come amid national elections in Niger, as President Mahamadou Issoufou steps down after two five-year terms.

Election officials announced provisional results on Saturday, showing a lead for Mohamed Bazoum – a former minister and a member of Niger’s ruling party.

A second round of votes is expected to be held on 21 February, once ballots have been validated by the country’s constitutional court.