News / Africa

Miners Assess New Risk After Niger Attack

Part of uranium mine at Arlit, Niger (photo provided by AREVA, Maurice Ascani)
Part of uranium mine at Arlit, Niger (photo provided by AREVA, Maurice Ascani)
Anne Look

One of the targets of a two-pronged terrorist attack in northern Niger on May 23 was a French-owned uranium mine. The attack damaged the facility, killed one staff member and wounded 14. One of the two al-Qaida-linked militant groups that carried out the attack in Niger also hit a European-operated natural gas plant in Algeria in mid-January, killing at least 37 hostages. There is concern that militants will continue to target high-value economic targets in the region.


Uranium is the major strategic economic interest for France in the Sahel.

France is the world's most nuclear-dependent country. Its 58 nuclear reactors produce 75 percent of the country's electricity, and about a quarter of the uranium running those plants comes from Niger, where France has been mining since 1969.


On May 23, two suicide bombers got into the French-owned Somair mine in Arlit, Niger, and exploded their vehicle. The blast damaged the grinding units, and it may take two to nine months to get the facility up and running again, at a potential loss of as much as $35 million per month.


Impact on France's Nuclear Giant

The manager of Africa risk analysis firm Strategico, Lydie Boka, says the attack on Arlit as well as the increased security risk perception could have serious consequences for both Niger and French nuclear giant, Areva, which runs the Somair mine.


She says security problems could further push back the opening of an even larger Areva mine in Niger, in Imouraren, that was supposed to open at the end of 2012 but has already been delayed to 2015. She says this would mean a loss of a significant number of jobs and revenue for Niger, as well as more big losses for Areva.


Security at the Somair mine had been reinforced twice -- once after seven workers, four of them French citizens, were kidnapped from the facility by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb in 2010 and then again this year, at the start of the French-led military intervention against AQIM and other Islamist militants in northern Mali.


Boka says it is worrying that there was already increased security in place at Somair, including French special forces. She says that raises the question of complicity from inside the facility. She says companies will have to put in place more safeguards and that will be expensive, but if the investment is worth it, investors will stay because the greater the risk, the greater the return.


That risk will likely mean tighter security at work sites and hikes in insurance premiums for companies operating in the region. But analysts don't expect that to dampen investment in the oil, gas and mining sectors.


The president of Areva visited Niger the day after the attacks to reaffirm what he called "the strength of our engagement in Niger."


Areva is majority-owned by the French government.


French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius visited Niger's capital, Niamey, the following week.


He told French expatriates gathered at the embassy that France wants to stay in Niger, because Niger is their friend and because it is a country that brings a lot to France and that also needs them. He says Niger's authorities have been "extremely brave in the fight against terrorism."


Niger has contributed troops to the French-led military intervention against al-Qaida-linked Islamist militants in northern Mali that began in January.


Western Facilities Targeted

The uranium facility in Niger is not the only majority Western-owned facility to be targeted by militants seeking revenge for that military offensive.


The "Those who Sign with Blood Brigade," led by former AQIM commander and Algerian-born militant, Mokhtar Belmohktar, raided a natural gas plant in Ain Amenas in eastern Algeria, taking 600 people hostage and ultimately killing at least 37. All but one of the dead were foreigners. The facility is a joint operation of BP, Norwegian company Statoil and the Algerian state oil company.


The facility has not been operational since the attack, according to the Algerian press.

Geoff Porter is head of North Africa Risk Consultancy, a US-based firm specializing in North Africa and the Sahara.


"We have to really reevaluate our understanding of what Belmokhtar's capabilities are. Between Ain Amenas, between Arlit/Agadez, we have to think about what's the extent of his area of operation, or his group's area of operation, and to what extent has he established local networks that he can tap or tap into at the time of his choosing. That's a really big concern," Porter said.


He says there is growing risk for extractive industries in the Maghreb. Potential targets are plentiful, in particular in Libya, which some regional leaders believed served as a rear base for the attacks in Niger and Algeria.


"Part of Salafi jihadi ideology is that you attack both the near and the far target, namely Western interests in the immediate vicinity but also the ultimate goal would be to target the West itself. The energy infrastructure represents the only really significant targets in the territory that we're talking about…if your objective is to attract attention to your grievance and to try and generate publicity for your cause. They could attack a military installation whether it's in Mali or Mauritania, but that doesn't
really resonate in the international media," Porter said.


Experts say that there are indications that the goals of the attacks in both Ain Amenas and Arlit included destroying or damaging the facilities themselves.

You May Like

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Christmas Gains Popularity in Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ugandan Doctors Aid Victims of Sudan's Civil Wari
X
Adam Bailes
December 22, 2014 3:45 PM
In Sudan's state of South Kordofan, the number of amputees as result of civil war is in the thousands, but few have access to sufficient medical help. Adam Bailes recently visited the area and says a small team of Ugandan doctors has been providing remote help, producing new prosthetic limbs for those in need.
Video

Video Ugandan Doctors Aid Victims of Sudan's Civil War

In Sudan's state of South Kordofan, the number of amputees as result of civil war is in the thousands, but few have access to sufficient medical help. Adam Bailes recently visited the area and says a small team of Ugandan doctors has been providing remote help, producing new prosthetic limbs for those in need.
Video

Video Jane Monheit Christmas Special

Chanteuse Jane Monheit sings the holiday classic “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and explains why it’s her favorite song of the season.
Video

Video Calm Amid Fear in Daily Life in S. Sudan’s Town of Bentiu

Six months ago, Bentiu was a ghost town. The capital of northern Unity State, near South Sudan’s important oil fields, had changed hands several times in fighting between government forces and rebels. Calm returned in November and since then, residents of Bentiu have been trying to regain some sense of normalcy. Bentiu’s market has reopened there are plans to start school again. But fears of new attacks hang heavy, as Benno Muchler reports from Bentiu.
Video

Video US Business Groups Press for Greater Access to Cuba

President Barack Obama's decision to do all he can to ease restrictions on U.S. trade, travel and financial activities with Cuba has drawn criticism from some conservatives and Republicans. People who bring tourists to the island and farmers who want to sell more food to Cuba, however, think they can do a lot more business with Cuba. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.

All About America

AppleAndroid