Niger thwarts jihadist prison break attempt

Earlier today, Malian-based jihadists attempted a prison break in Niger to free fellow jihadists from a high-security prison close to the capital Niamey. No prisoners escaped nor were any guards killed in the assault. One attacker, however, was killed after failing to detonate his explosive belt.

The Koutoukalé high-security prison houses captured militants from al Qaeda, Boko Haram and other militant groups active in Niger, according to the BBC. If the attackers came from Mali, as reported, it is likely the militants have a connection to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) or its many affiliates in the country.

French outlet RFI reports:

On late Monday morning, calm has returned around the Koutoukalé high security prison. The attempt to release terrorist prisoners failed. The assailants, a dozen terrorists came from the Mali border by motorcycle, fled leaving behind one of their own killed by the National Guard before he could activate his [explosive] belt.

Upon arrival in the morning, the attackers opened fire on the main gate of the prison Koutoukalé [with] M80 submachine guns. But the gate did not give in, the gunmen did not have access to the interior.

No prisoner has escaped and the situation is currently under control of the National Guard. Significant reinforcements arrived [for] the soldiers in their kit, they say. Air assets were also mobilized. According to the governor of Tillabery region, the attackers will be caught and neutralized, given the resources mobilized.

In a prison break in Niamey in 2013, militants from the now largely-defunct Malian-based group Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) were able to escape after an attack on same prison. In 2014, suspected militants from Al Murabitoon targeted a prison in the Tillabery region of Niger close to the borders with Mali.

Today’s attack near Niamey follows the kidnapping of an American aid worker and a suspected jihadist assault on a Malian refugee camp, both of which happened closer to the borders with Mali. An American aid worker from the non-governmental organization “JEMED,” who had lived in Niger since the 1990s, was kidnapped from his home and taken to Mali over the weekend.

Jihadist groups based in Mali continue to strike in neighboring Niger, highlighting the spillover from Mali’s volatile security situation. Niger’s porous borders and inability to combat this allows for jihadists to exploit the failure to strike in the country. While there have not been any large-scale coordinated attacks, like in Arlit and Agadez in 2013, there have been at least seven attacks attributable to Malian-based jihadists in Niger so far this year. With the recent spate of assaults in Niger, this number could very well increase.

[For more data: see this Long War Journal map of attacks in Niger.]

Caleb Weiss is an editor of FDD's Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, where he focuses on the spread of the Islamic State in Central Africa.

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