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ISIS claims Niger attacks, attributing them to West Africa Province

ISIS says its fighters ambushed soldiers near Tongo Tongo and attacked security forces near Koutoukale prison

Islamic State on Thursday, May 16 claimed fighters from its West Africa Province affiliate carried out two attacks in western Niger earlier in the week.

In a statement, ISIS said ISWAP fighters ambushed Niger Army soldiers in Tongo Tongo, near what it described as “the artificial border with Mali,” on Tuesday, claiming that in clashes with “light, medium and heavy weapons,” 40 soldiers were killed and wounded, and three vehicles were damaged.

The Niger Army has said that 28 soldiers were killed when a military patrol was ambushed Tuesday afternoon near the village of Tongo Tongo in the western Tillaberi region near the border with Mali.

The Islamic State statement also claimed an attack on “Niger security forces in the vicinity of” Koutoukale prison on Monday, claiming that “many” were killed and injured.

On Monday, Niger authorities said they had foiled a “terrorist attack” at the high-security Koutoukale prison. One soldier injured in the attack later died. The Niger air force intervened, forcing the attackers to flee towards the Mali border, ActuNiger reported.

The prison was previously attacked in October 2016 and Islamic State in the Greater Sahara claimed responsibility.

ISIS claims for ISWAP attacks have previously been restricted to northeast Nigeria, as well as neighboring areas of Niger and Chad around Lake Chad. Attacks carried out by ISIS affiliates in the Sahel have previously been attributed to Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.

Niger faces insurgency on two fronts: the southeastern Diffa region near Lake Chad is increasingly frequently hit by Nigeria-based militants, while Mali-based militants, some linked to al-Qaeda, are active in the west of the country and the wider Sahel region.

ISWAP is a faction of Boko Haram, the jihadist group that began its decade-long bloody insurgency in northeastern Nigeria in 2009. Boko Haram split into two factions in mid-2016. One, led by long-time leader Abubakar Shekau, is notorious for suicide bombings and indiscriminate killings of civilians. Shekau pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi in March 2015, but ISIS central only gives formal backing to the other faction, which it calls Islamic State West Africa Province.

The ISWAP faction, which largely focuses on attacking military and government targets and is the dominant insurgent group in the Lake Chad area, was first led by Abu Mus’ab Al-Barnawi, but in March, audio recordings revealed that ISIS appointed Abu Abdullah Idris bin Umar, also known as Ibn Umar al-Barnawi, as leader. ISIS has not yet made a public statement confirming the change.

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Jared Szuba contributed translation. This developing story was updated on May 16.

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