Niger: Attack against the Tazalite refugee camp (Analysis)
On October 6, around 14h00 local time (13h00 GMT), unidentified gunmen aboard light trucks and possibly motorcycles attacked the refugee camp of Tazalite in the Department of Tassara, Tahoua Region. The camp is inhabited by around 900 families numbering a total of approximately 4.000 Malian refugees, predominantly Tuareg from the Gao Region, this according to statistics provided by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as of August 31.
Despite the fact that the attack was carried out in broad daylight, it apparently came as a surprise for the soldiers, gendarmes and guards assigned with protecting the camp, since they according to reports were having lunch when the assailants directly targeted the security post of the camp. According to a statement by the Secretary General of the Nigerien Government 22 soldiers were killed and 5 wounded, the spokesman of the Ministry of National Defense Moustapha Ledru specified in a televized communiqué that 14 of those killed were guards, 5 gendarmes and 3 army soldiers. Only 3 of the camp’s security personnel managed to escape the attack. While awaiting the results of the pursuit of the perpetrators and ongoing investigations of the attack, the Niger Presidency on Friday decreed two days of national mourning across the territory with flags flown at half-mast.
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There are conflicting reports regarding which language the attackers spoke, whether it was Tamasheq or Arabic, think we can assume both. Despite the magnitude of this attack, no group have yet claimed it, measured in losses of human lives it exceeds the July 19 attack by Ansar Dine that targeted the Malian army base in Nampala, Mali.
The extent of the Tazalite attack in this particular region is unprecedented, generally the region functions as fallback for different armed extremist groups due to both typography and relatively limited military presence, although sporadic attacks do occur like for example in Egarek in late April earlier this year.
On September 1 around 21h00 local time, unidentified gunmen attacked a customs post in Markoye, Ouadalan Province, far north Burkina-Faso near the Mali-Niger border, resulting in 2 dead & 3 wounded, this attack was later claimed by Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi’s Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) according to the Mauritanian news outlet alakhbar.info, marking the first attack claimed by the group since pledging allegiance to the Islamic State in May 2015.
Only nine days after the Markoye attack, unidentified gunmen attacked the security post at the Tabarey-Barey refugee camp in the Tillabéry Region, killing a young refugee woman and a 5 year-old boy, additionally wounding 5 others. This attack was never claimed, but several factors indicate that ISGS also was behind this attack, both the timeframe since the Markoye attack and the distance to the Tabarey-Barey camp near Ayorou, approximately 120 km, add the group’s very recent and documented presence in the specific region. These mentioned factors brings us some circumstantial evidence that points to ISGS as the most likely perpetrator of this attack.
There are several other groups in addition to the aspirational ‘Islamic State in the Greater Sahara’ that roam the Sahelian border zones between Mali, Niger and Burkina-Faso, the most prominent being Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s (AQIM) al-Mourabitoune Brigade lead by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, but also other brigades of Ansar Dine and AQIM. Like AQIM’s unit called Saraya al-Nasser which has been attributed a rocket attack that is said to have targeted the French-owned (Areva) uranium mine in Arlit, but also multiple attacks in the area of Ménaka back in May and July respectively. Note that it has not been possible to independently verify the claimed rocket attack in Arlit.
An early detailed summary of the Tazalite attack citing an eyewitness indicated that the attackers were MUJAO jihadists, the choice of targeting the security forces of a refugee camp draws similarities to the previously mentioned Tabarey-Barey attack, further being an area of operations that to some extent pertains more to MUJAO than the other groups mentioned brings us to assume although still unclaimed that this particular attack could be the third attack by the aspirational Islamic State of the Greater Sahara led by the former MUJAO spokesman Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi. The Tazalite attack also comes on the sidelines of a notable uptick in armed attacks by violent extremist groups in Mali and armed confrontations between different non-jihadist movements.