Suspected extremist gunmen kill 25 in southwestern Niger

NIAMEY, Niger (AP) — At least 25 people were killed by suspected extremist gunmen in southwest Niger, the government said Wednesday.

Buildings were burned and ransacked in the attack earlier this week near Bakorat village along the border with Mali, Alkache Alhada, the interior minister said in a statement. The government called the attack cowardly and said security sweeps in the area are underway.

This is the latest in a string of extremist violence linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group in the conflict-ridden West African nation, particularly along the border with Mali. Earlier this month suspected Islamic extremists ambushed a self-defense brigade in western Niger killing 69 people and in March, 137 people were killed by gunmen on motorcycles who attacked a series of villages along the border.

While no group claimed responsibility for this week’s attack, al-Qaida is most prominent in that part of Niger as it has operated there for many years, say conflict analysts.

The attack signifies a continued rise of extremist violence in the Sahel, the region south of the Sahara Desert, said Laith Alkhouri, CEO of Intelonyx Intelligence Advisory.

“It further denotes the lackluster security measures that keep the borders porous and provide terrorist groups like al-Qaida and ISIS, who’ve been competing for dominance, with opportunities to expand,” he said.