19 killed in Niger suicide bomb strike

The French-run Areva mine in Arlit, Niger. The west African country provides one-fifth of France's uranium needs. PHOTO | BBC 

Suicide bombers have struck a military camp and a French-run uranium mine in two towns in north-west Niger, officials say.

A bomb at a military barracks in Agadez killed at least 19 people, including 18 soldiers, Niger Internal Affairs minister Abdou Labo confirmed.

A second attack at a French-run uranium mine in the town of Arlit injured 50 people, he said.

The jihadist Mujao group said it carried out the attacks.

Four of the attackers at the Agadez barracks were killed and a fifth is holding four army officers hostage, Mr Labo said.

Mujao spokesman Abu Walid Sahraoui said the group had "carried out two operations against the enemies of Islam in Niger," according to AFP.

"We attacked France, and Niger because of its cooperation with France, in the war against Sharia," he added, thought to be a reference to French and Nigerien involvement in combating Islamists in neighbouring Mali.

Both attacks were carried out as people prepared for the early morning prayer just after 05:00 local time (04:00 GMT).

Niger's Defence minister Mahamadou Karidjo said insurgents drove a car bomb into the military base at Agadez.

Special forces

Around two dozen people were wounded in the blast, including civilians.

Mr Abdoulaye Harouna, a resident of Agadez, told the Associated Press: "We heard a strong detonation that woke the whole neighbourhood, it was so powerful."

"There is at least one remaining assailant that we are trying to capture," Mr Karidjo disclosed.

Further north, a suicide bomber blew up a car close to workers at the Areva-run mine at Arlit.

French nuclear firm Areva said that 13 "colleagues" at the Somair plant had been wounded.

"A man in military uniform driving a 4x4 packed with explosives mixed in with the Somair workers and blew up his vehicle in front of the power station at the uranium treatment facility," a mine employee told AFP news agency.

He said the bomber had died in the blast.

Security was stepped up at Areva's Arlit operation - one of the country's biggest uranium mines - in February. Niger provides one-fifth of France's uranium needs, according to French media.

Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou said French special forces had moved in to protect the site after dozens of hostages died when Islamist militants seized a gas plant in Algeria in January.

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