More than 20 killed in attacks on villages in western Niger

At least 20 people have been killed in attacks by gunmen on several villages in Niger, local authorities say.

Tidjani Ibrahim Katiella, governor of Tillaberi region, said the assailants were riding motorbikes during the incidents on Saturday.

The unidentified group reportedly looted shops, stole cattle and ordered village inhabitants to flee.

Since 2017 a state of emergency has been in place in Tillaberi, which borders Mali, Burkina Faso and Benin.

Gunmen attacked at 4.00pm local time.

Militants affiliated to the Islamic State and al-Qaeda continue to operate in the region, weakening control by national governments. Attacks by these groups have killed 170 government soldiers since December last year.

Last week the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, warned that jihadist groups in the Sahel were exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to step up attacks.

Combatting militants in the region is seen as important for maintaining security further afield, including Europe. Several African and European countries, along with the US, have set up a military task force to deal with the insurgency.

The UN also has a 13,000-strong peacekeeping force in Mali, which has been targeted by insurgent groups. On Sunday, three Chadian peacekeepers were killed by a roadside bomb. No group has claimed responsibility for the deaths, but such explosives are a preferred tactic of jihadis in the area.