Why Boko Haram’s attack on Toumour, Niger is a stark warning to neighbouring states
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Terrorists believed to be affiliated with Boko Haram launched a bloody attack on Toumour, a village in southeastern Niger, right on the border with Nigeria, on the night of December 12. At least 28 people were killed. Videos posted on Twitter on December 13 show the village in ruins after the attack.
The attack took place the day that local and regional elections were held. Although the Boko Haram terrorist organisation is thought to be behind the attack, as of December 16 they had not yet claimed responsibility. There is a heavy Boko Haram presence in the Lake Chad basin, which extends into Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad.
About 70 militants carried out the attack, which left at least 28 people dead and dozens injured, according to reports by local authorities. People who returned to the village after the militants had left posted videos showing the burned-out ruins of homes and other buildings.
"Some victims were killed or sustained gunshot wounds, while others burned to death in huts that were totally consumed by the flames of an enormous fire set by the assaillants,” a local official told French press agency AFP.
'We were totally surprised by this attack'
Youssouf (pseudonym), a village dignitary, was present during the attack.
I am currently in hospital in Diffa. There are a lot of wounded people here. Some have burns.
We had just finished evening prayer when the village came under attack. I was standing with a group of local dignitaries outside of the home of our traditional chief. We were just chatting when we saw a group of about a dozen people approaching us on foot. All hell broke loose after the first gunshots went off.This December 13 tweet reads: In the Diffa region of Toumour, Niger, the terrorist attack attributed to Boko Haram (very active in the area) leaves a city in ruins, bearing the stigma of an unrighteous incursion.
#Niger : À #Toumour, dans la région de #Diffa, l'attaque terroriste prêtée à #BokoHaram, très actif dans la zone, laisse une ville en ruines, portant les stigmates d'une incursion impie. On parle aussi de morts. Pas encore de bilan officiel. pic.twitter.com/Mqv7vwozat— Djibril Saidou (@DjibrilSaidou) December 13, 2020
Now, calm has returned to the village. But we lost everything. Most of the homes were destroyed [Editor’s note: Between 800 and 1,000 homes were destroyed according to regional authorities in the Bosso department]. Lots of thatched homes were burned down. The main market was destroyed. Our windmills were burned as were several vehicles.
We were completely surprised by this attack. We are afraid that they’ll come back. The terrorists are unpredictable. We need shelter, food and blankets. Lots of people fled the village. It’s going to take time for life to get back to normal.”
For the past few months, there has been a surge of terrorist attacks in Niger. Located just across the border from Nigeria, the village of Toumour is home to thousands of refugees who fled Boko Haram violence in Nigeria’s Borno state, which has long been terrorised by the group affiliated with the Islamic State terrorist organisation. There are more than 260,000 displaced persons in the region of Diffa, 30,000 of whom are currently living in Toumour, according to figures from the government body responsible for keeping track of refugees and migrants [Editor’s note: In French, the Direction nationale de l’État civil, des migrations et des réfugiés du Niger].
“Toumour is a target because the community has resisted terrorism”
This latest attack has undermined the systems put in place to protect refugees and, moreover, displaced thousands more people.
Ibrahim Elh is the regional administrator for the commission responsible for assisting displaced persons. Elh and his teams are working with humanitarian organisations to respond to the urgent needs of victims of this attack.
The army took back control of the village. We were on the ground the day after the attack. The governor of Diffa also traveled to the village on December 14.
It’s total panic amongst the population. People are fleeing the village. But it isn’t easy. It’s December so a lot of the roads are cut off by flooding from the River Komadugu. People are crossing the river however they can. But four people fleeing the attack on the village ended up drowning in the river.
Right now, a large number of people are trying to reach Diffa, the main city in the region, which is about 75 kilometres from Toumour, where they are hoping to find host families. Others will continue to the Sayam Forage refugee camp, which is run by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. We need to regulate these movements.
But some people also decided to stay put. We need to make sure that they are safe and provide them with food, water and shelter because the fire destroyed all of the village’s reserves.
Toumour is a target because the Fula people who live there has always resisted the terrorists. They never wanted to leave because the village is symbolic for the indigenous Fulani community of this area. It is home to the largest traditional Fulani chiefdom. And it is the only large village left in the entire eastern strip of Diffa, along with Bosso and Nguigmi.
The people have not developed a mechanism of armed resistance. However, if they remain despite fear, threats or ongoing kidnappings, it is due to community leaders who convey the importance of the land of their ancestors and ask the people to stay and resist.
The terrorist attack took place in the midst of Niger’s electoral period. Regional and municipal elections took place on December 13.
“It’s strategic,” says Ibrahim Elh. “The terrorists want to send a strong signal to neighbouring countries and the international community, to remind them of their presence in the region and show that they are capable of attacking and destroying large villages like Toumour.”
On December 27, people in Niger will go to the polls to elect the next president — as their current president, Mahamadou Issoufou, will not seek another term — and vote for the members of the National Assembly. The security situation in the country will be one of the key issues.