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.
"Armed men arrived on motorbikes and shot at everything which moved. They attacked Intazayene, Bakoarate and Wistane and surrounding areas" on Sunday, a local official said.
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 death toll, reading a government statement on national television's Monday evening broadcast. The death toll was initially put at at least 40, but was later revised up to 137 .
The three villages are located in the Tahoua region, abutting the Tillaberi region in the so-called "tri-border area" where the frontiers of Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali converge.
The world's poorest nation according to the UN's development rankings for 189 countries, Niger is also struggling with jihadist insurgencies that have spilled over from Mali and Nigeria.
Hundreds of lives have been lost, nearly half a million people have fled their homes, and devastating damage has been inflicted.
On March 15, 66 people were killed in the Tillaberi region when suspected jihadists attacked a bus carrying shoppers from the market town of Banibangou, and then raided the village of Darey-Daye, killing inhabitants and torching grain stores.
On January 2, 100 people were killed in attacks on two villages in the Mangaize district of Tillaberi.
The massacre, one of the worst in Niger's history, occurred between two rounds of the country's presidential election.
In December 2019, 71 Nigerien troops died in an attack at Inates, and the following month 89 were killed in an assault on their base at Chinedogar.
(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP and REUTERS)