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Niger government confirms 137 dead in village attacks near Mali

Niger's newly elected president Mohamed Bazoum gestures as he delivers a speech at his party headquarters after the announcement of his election in Niamey on Feb. 23, 2021. (Issouf Sanogo/AFP via Getty Images)

NIAMEY, Niger (AP) — Gunmen aboard motorcycles have attacked a series of villages near Niger’s troubled border with Mali, leaving at least 137 people dead in the deadliest violence to strike the African country in recent memory, the government announced Monday.

The latest village massacres come amid a dangerous escalation in attacks following the election of Niger’s new president, Mohamed Bazoum, several weeks ago.

Government spokesman Abdourahmane Zakaria confirmed the latest killings took place Sunday, the same day Niger’s Constitutional Court officially declared Bazoum as the winner of February’s election. He is due to take office on April 2 amid a rapidly deteriorating situation in Niger, long destabilized by the Islamic insurgency in neighboring Mali.

In January, at least 100 people were killed in the western villages of Tchombangou and Zaroumdareye, the same day that Niger announced the presidential election would go to a second round on Feb. 21. Another wave of attacks less than a week ago killed at least 66 others.

There have been no claims of responsibility for the recent attacks on villages in Niger, although Islamic extremists rarely say they are behind violence when it kills civilians.

Niger and neighboring Burkina Faso and Mali are battling the spread of deadly extremist violence, including from the Islamic State group and al-Qaida, which has killed thousands of people and displaced hundreds of thousands despite the presence of thousands of regional and international troops.

Not only are jihadis active in the Tillaberi region, but the counterterrorism offensives against those extremists have helped give rise to ethnic militias, analysts say. Intercommunal tensions have been exacerbated as a result, particularly near the border between Mali and Niger.

Associated Press writer Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed.