NIAMEY (Reuters) - Ten people including seven soldiers were killed late this week during attacks by gunmen in Niger, security sources said on Saturday, adding to the week’s death toll from armed clashes in the uranium-exporting northwest African country.
The attacks are heightening tensions in the Sahel region, which saw a wave of kidnappings in 2009. Four westerners -- three Spaniards and one Frenchman -- are believed to be in Mali and held hostage by al Qaeda operatives.
In attacks on Wednesday and Thursday, unidentified armed men killed seven soldiers and a civilian in the Tahoua region, which borders Mali, around 750 km north of Niger’s capital Niamey. Soldiers killed two of the raiders.
“Soldiers who pursued the men said they fled in the direction of Mali,” a military officer in Niger told Reuters.
On Tuesday, Niger’s security forces arrested three people suspected of a botched desert hostage-taking the day before that left four Saudi Arabian travelers dead.
That attack, near the village of Djambala in the remote Tillabery region, comes in a restive zone where Tuareg rebels and al Qaeda cells are active.
Three Saudis were shot dead during the attack and three others in the group -- made up of six Saudis and two Malians -- were seriously wounded and transferred to hospital in Niamey. One of the Saudis later died of his wounds.
Reporting by Abdoulaye Massalatchi; Writing by Daniel Magnowski; Editing by Robin Pomeroy
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