NIAMEY: Suspected militants attacked a military camp in western Niger, killing at least 70 soldiers, authorities said, according to local media.
The overnight attack took place in the village of Inates near the border with Mali, where fighters linked to Islamic State have long been active.
“It was a position of our army in the Inates area that was attacked. The attackers, who numbered in the dozens and came in small groups on motorbikes, attacked the camp, which they surrounded around 19:25 local time,” one report said, quoting a security source.
Reports attributed the heavy death toll to explosions from ammunition and fuel.
The attackers reportedly bombarded the camp with shelling and mortars.
The tragedy forced President Mahamadou Issoufou to return to Niamey, cutting short his visit to Egypt, where he had joined other leaders in a conference on sustainable peace, security and development in Africa, according to remarks posted on Twitter by the president’s office.
The president is due to chair an emergency security meeting following the incident, it said.
It was the second attack in two days against the army.
On Monday, three Niger soldiers and 14 terrorists were killed in an attack on an army post in the western Tahoua region.
The latest attack occurred a few days before French President Emmanuel Macron is scheduled to meet in the southwestern French town of Pau with five presidents from the Sahel to discuss security in the region.
Niger’s president is among those invited to next week’s summit, which is expected to discuss the future of the French mission in the region.
According to reports, Macron wants the West African leaders to indicate their clear position on France’s military presence following some anti-French protests.
Niger is part of a five-nation task force known as the G5 — established in 2014 with Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Chad in the wake of militant attacks.
Niger’s Council of Ministers recently extended for another three months a state of emergency declared in 2017 in several regions to fight against rebel attacks.