PARIS - French President Emmanuel Macron condemned an attack Sunday by gunmen in Niger that killed at least eight people, including several French aid workers.
The attack took place in Koure, only 40 miles from Niger’s capital Niamey. The French aid group ACTED said several of its workers were among those killed during a tourist outing. France confirmed its nationals were among the dead.
It is a major blow to Niger, a key ally for the U.S. and others in the fight against extremism in the Sahel.
It is believed to be the first such attack on Westerners in this area of Niger, a popular tourist attraction thanks to its unique population of West African or Niger giraffes.
Speaking to VOA from Dakar, Gilles Yabi, the founder of WATHI, a civil society organization that describes itself as a citizen think tank in West Africa, said this attack is not a surprise in this unstable region that Sahel has become over the years.
"This is definitely a blow to the effort that has been made so far to bring security in Niger," Yabi said. "But, in the entire Sahel region, we do know that attacks can happen basically anywhere. The areas more exposed are areas where you have a proliferation of armed groups. It is very easy for some of these groups to move from one area to another."
In a recent interview with VOA, J. Peter Pham, the top U.S. envoy to the Sahel region, noted extremist attacks in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger had increased 40 percent in the first quarter of this year alone.
With foreign troops on its soil and a U.S. drones base set up in the northern Nigerien region of Agadez, Niger put security at the core of its cooperation with Western powers.
Yet, the country seems unable to prevent those attacks, said Rida Lyammouri, a senior fellow at the Policy Center for the New South.
This is a major setback for Niger, a major ally to the United States, France and the European Union," Lyammouri said. "Both the U.S. and France have been training, advising and providing equipment to Niger forces. However, having strong security forces does not happen overnight or even a decade, which is the case for Niger."
The office of French President Emmanuel Macron said he spoke on the phone with his Niger counterpart Mahamadou Issoufou. Both leaders condemned what Mr. Macron described as a "cowardly" attack.
Seidik Abba, a Nigerien journalist based in Paris, said the incident could make security the focus of a political debate in Niger over President Issoufou's track record and the value of foreign troops on Niger soil. He pointed out that French, U.S., and German troops are stationed in Niger.
The Sahel has become a haven for jihadist groups such as the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.
A number of Europeans have been abducted – and in some cases killed – in the volatile region.
Two Frenchmen, Antoine De Leocour and Vincent Delory, were killed after being kidnapped by jihadists from a restaurant in Niamey in 2011.