The death toll in a suspected jihadist attack in Niger last week — the deadliest ever to hit the country — has now risen to 141, the government said on Saturday.
Previously, 137 people were reported to have been killed in the raids in three villages near Niger’s border with Mali last Sunday.
“We have met the populations who were the victims of these barbarous attacks, where men, women, and children were killed,” Interior Minister Alkache Alhada said after visiting one of the villages on Friday.
Speaking on public television, he warned that the attacks could represent “a major risk of conflict between the different communities sharing this space”.
The UN’s children’s agency UNICEF said in a statement that “22 children aged between five and 17 were killed and several others hurt or separated from their families.”
“Killing and injuring children is a grave violation of human rights. UNICEF strongly urges all parties to protect children and keep them out of harm’s way,” it said.
Gunmen arriving on motorbikes attacked the villages of Intazayene, Bakorat and Wistane last Sunday, shooting “at everything which moved,” a local official said.
The three villages are located in the arid Tahoua region in western Niger, abutting the Tillaberi region in a border zone notorious for jihadist attacks.
The world’s poorest nation according to the UN’s development rankings for 189 countries, Niger is also struggling with Islamist insurgencies that have spilled over from Mali and Nigeria.
Government announced three days of national mourning for the victims from Tuesday and vowed to reinforce security in the region and bring “the perpetrators of these cowardly and criminal acts” to justice.
Then, on Wednesday, 13 people were killed in the west of the country when armed men on motorbikes raided another three villages, also near the Malian border.