Boko Haram renews attacks on civilians in Niger: 'We can’t count on security forces to protect us'

Boko Haram attacked the village of N’Guigmi, in southeastern Niger, on March 26. (Photo: Lawan Boukar, a Diffa-based journalist)
Boko Haram attacked the village of N’Guigmi, in southeastern Niger, on March 26. (Photo: Lawan Boukar, a Diffa-based journalist)

Nigeria-based Boko Haram has renewed attacks on civilian populations in neighbouring Niger in recent months, aided in part by dry weather that has made it easier for the jihadist group to cross the river that divides the two countries. Our Observer lives in one of the villages that has been targeted in the Diffa region of southeastern Niger and tells us what he saw.

The United Nations has said that 88 civilians were killed just in March in the region, located near the Nigeria and Chad borders, compared with 107 people killed during all of 2018. Officials reported that 21 attacks were carried out last month, due largely to increased activity by Boko Haram, that displaced nearly 18,500 people.

At least 10 civilians were killed on March 26 in a Boko Haram suicide attack in the village of N’Guigmi, in the north of the Diffa region. Two female suicide bombers blew themselves up near police barracks and armed men then opened fire on civilians, the town’s mayor, Abba Kaya Issa, told AFP. Residents said some houses were burned and the wounded taken to the local hospital.

"We can't count on the security forces"

Our Observer Sinni Hisseine, who lives in N’Guigmi, said he heard two explosions close to his home at around 10pm.

I was at home with my friends, and we decided to stay inside, where it would be safer and where there wasn’t a risk that the soldiers would shoot us. The terrorist group was firing and we saw lights flashing past. It went on until 2am.

The next day I went out to see what had happened. There were bodies everywhere, between 12 and 14 of them. We have soldiers and officers here, but no one did anything during the night, maybe because they were scared of Boko Haram – and that there would be another suicide bomber. I felt discouraged. We expect the security forces to respond, but we feel like we can’t count on them.

Then I went to the hospital, where a friend let me in. I was able to take some photos of the wounded.

Hisseine’s photos showed the bodies of at least five victims at the local hospital, and other villagers being treated for their wounds. The France 24 Observers team is not publishing the photos due to their graphic content.

The spike in the number of civilian attacks in Niger, along with the burning of homes and the use of suicide bombers, indicates a possible shift in strategy for Boko Haram, experts say. The group’s activities in the Diffa region have been facilitated by low water levels in the Komadugu river, which separates Niger from Nigeria.

Moussa Tchangari, head of the Nigerien nonprofit Alternative Espace Citoyens (Alternative Citizen’s Space), said the increased civilian attacks by Boko Haram in the region are “concerning”.

Boko Haram is targeting the civilian population again, just as they did at the beginning of the crisis. They are burning houses, killing civilians and forcing them to flee.

They have regrouped recently, and now with the Komadugu river starting to dry up [Editor’s note: the river’s water levels drop between January and June], it’s easier for them to cross and attack.

Each faction has its own strategy. We believe there is one faction that targets primarily security forces, and another that targets both security forces and civilians.

The N’Guigmi attack is concerning. They don’t usually launch an attack like that. There were two female suicide bombers. It’s a method they haven’t used in a long time, perhaps since a year ago.

This article was written by Jenny Che.