Gunmen on motorbikes raid Niger villages, kill at least 137

Attackers on motorbikes have raided several villages in southwestern Niger, killing at least 137 people in the bloodiest violence to hit the country in years, the government said.

The gunmen on Sunday attacked the villages of Intazayene, Bakorat and Wistane, located near the border with Mali, shooting “at everything which moved”, according to a local official.

On Monday, the government said the attacks had left 137 people dead. Local officials have previously given a death toll of at least 60.

“In treating civilian populations systematically as targets now, these armed bandits have gone a step further into horror and brutality,” government spokesman Zakaria Abdourahamane said in a statement read on public television.

The coordinated raids underscore the greatest challenge facing Mohamed Bazoum, Niger’s new president whose election victory in a runoff vote last month was confirmed on Sunday by the country’s top court.

Niger, the world’s poorest nation according to the United Nations’ development rankings for 189 countries, is struggling with armed campaigns that have spilled over from Mali and Nigeria, killing hundreds of people and displacing nearly half a million others.The three villages attacked on Sunday are located in the arid Tahoua region, abutting the Tillaberi border area, a hotspot of the conflict plaguing the western portion of the Sahel for much of the past 10 and is also fuelled by fighters linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS).

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