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

US Gives Malaysia Questionable Upgrade in Human Trafficking Ranks

Malaysia’s upgrade seen as removing barrier to country’s participation in the US-led 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership More

Turkey, US Try to Establish Buffer Despite Differences

Coalition airstrikes in proposed zone would aim to drive out Islamic extremists, allowing targeted area to come under sway of anti-Assad rebels More

Video US: Millions Exploited by Vast Fortunes of Human Trafficking

State Department's annual report calls exploitation 'modern slavery,' brutalizing girls, women into prostitution and forcing men, women and children into low-wage jobs across the globe More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Wini
X
July 28, 2015 12:21 AM
The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Obama Encourages Kenya to Fix Cultures of Corruption, Discrimination

President Barack Obama bid farewell to Kenya Sunday with a major speech at as stadium outside the capital Nairobi where he called on Kenyans to change the cultures of corruption and discrimination that can hold society back. VOA East Africa Correspondent Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video California Towns Welcome Special Olympics Athletes

Cities and towns in Southern California are greeting thousands of athletes who are arriving for Special Olympics, a competition for people with intellectual disabilities. The games will run from July 25th through August 2nd. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, where athletes from Namibia, Singapore and Tanzania got a rousing welcome from local residents.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.
Video

Video Hoverbike Flying Toward Reality

Another long-standing dream of many technological inventors is quickly approaching reality: U.S.- and British-based firms are cooperating in the development of an individual flying platform they call a hoverbike. They say it may revolutionize the concept of flying, including in the U.S. military. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video As Japan Expands Defense Role, Protests Follow

The Japanese government is moving forward with a controversial security bill that would authorize the military to fight abroad for the first time since World War II. Leaders say it is critical to defend against rising threats from China and North Korea. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Japan on the big changes ahead, and the opposition they are drawing.
Video

Video Replacing Poppies with Coffee in Myanmar

The remote mountains of Myanmar’s Shan state are home to the second-largest opium-producing region in the world. After a drop during the 2000s, production surged in the past eight years to feed an increasing demand for heroin in China. But farmers are now making less on the crop, and the U.N. is hoping many will make the switch to growing coffee. Daniel de Carteret reports for VOA from Taunggyi.

VOA Blogs