In the latest string of attacks, a group of bandits on motorbikes shot up a village, killing 20 people, Niger's Tillaberi governor said.

Dozens of women are seen siiting on mats in Niamey on May 8, 2020.
Dozens of women are seen siiting on mats in Niamey on May 8, 2020. (AFP)

Bandits riding motorbikes killed 20 villagers in a string of attacks in Niger's western region of Tillaberi, the governor said on Sunday.

An unknown number of "armed bandits" attacked three villages on Sunday evening, said governor Tidjani Ibrahim Katiella.

He said that the assailants "pillaged shops" and looted cereal as well as cattle before heading off towards the north.

One local source named the villages that were targeted as Gadabo, Zibane Koira-Zeno and Zibane-Tegui, all administered by Anzourou, a commune some 50 kilometres from Tillaberi city, the main town in western Niger and some 100 kilometres from the border with Mali.

Last January, Niger authorities restricted motorcycle traffic by day as well as night in a bid to crack down on militants operating in the region.

They also closed down a number of food markets they said were "supplying terrorists with fuel and cereals," according to the governor.

The government recently extended a state of emergency in the region which was first introduced in 2017. 

According to official statistics, 174 soldiers have been killed in three attacks in the zone since last December at Chinegodar.

Daesh claimed all three attacks.

In March, Malian and Niger soldiers joined forces with French forces in the area for an operation which mobilised around 5,000 troops under the ongoing Operation Barkhane deployment.

The French-led Operation Barkhane is leading operations across Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, where they claim to be fighting terrorists.

UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres warned last week that extremist groups in the Sahel are exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to step up attacks.

"Terrorist groups are taking advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic to intensify their attacks and to challenge state authority throughout the sub-region," said Guterres, citing an area straddling Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso as a major concern.

Guterres said terror groups were exploiting the virus spread for both propaganda and action purposes.

The pandemic has seen the border between Mali and Mauritania being shut, forcing operations of the so-called G5-Sahel anti-jihadist force to be postponed. 

The G5 is a 5,000-strong force with troops from Chad, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali and Mauritania cooperating with French troops to combat a growing extremist insurgency.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies