Paris/Koure, Niger, 10 August 2020 (dpa/MIA) – French prosecutors said on Monday they are launching an investigation into terrorist murder after the killings of six French humanitarian workers in Niger.
The six, along with their Nigerien guide and driver, were shot dead on Sunday by gunmen on motorbikes while on a visit to a national reserve in the Koure area, known for its rare West African giraffes.
The French and Swiss aid organizations Acted and Impact Initiatives said in a joint statement that seven of their staff, as well as a guide, had been killed in the attack, without specifying their nationalities.
There has been no claim of responsibility for the attack.
Acted director general Marie-Pierre Caley denounced what she said was “an absolutely unprecedented tragedy for Acted and Impact” and “a barbarous, indescribable, revolting crime.”
The eight victims were four men and four women, aged between 25 and 40, Acted official Frederic Roussel added at a press conference shown on France’s BFMTV television.
Koure is considered to be relatively safe from terrorist attacks, although armed Islamist extremist groups are very active in other parts of Niger, especially near the borders with Mali and Burkina Faso.
France has some 5,100 troops deployed in the Sahel region – which stretches from Mauritania through Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger to Chad – to back up local forces against the jihadists.
Caley said that the group had left the capital Niamey, where they were based, at 8:30 am (0730 GMT) for the pre-planned and approved trip to the nature park.
At 9:30, in line with security protocols, they called to say they had arrived. The attack took place about 11:30, Caley said, adding that it was “the first in this zone which is frequently visited by the entire international community.”
In the afternoon, park rangers informed Acted that one of their vehicles had been found burned out. A French military vehicle and an ambulance went to the scene and recovered the eight bodies.
It was a “tragic paradox” that the aid workers had been killed in one of the few relatively safe areas of Niger when many Acted staff were working in very dangerous zones to assist local populations, Roussel said.
In an overnight statement, French President Emmanuel Macron said he had spoken to Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou about the attack and every effort would be made to bring the circumstances of the attack to light “in the coming hours.”
Macron said he would call a meeting of his national defence council on Tuesday.
Issoufou, in a tweet published on Sunday evening, condemned “the cowardly and barbarous terrorist attack perpetrated in the peaceful area of Koure.”