Niamey - Shooting erupted late on Tuesday near a college for
Niger's paramilitary police in a suburb of the capital, the minister of defines
Nearby residents who were contacted by telephone said they
were hunkered down, and a battle appeared to be in progress.
"I can confirm that there is shooting near the Ecole de
la Gendarmerie," said Minister of Defence Karidjo Mahamadou, referring to
the college on the outskirts of Niamey. He declined to give further details,
saying, "No, we do not know who the gunmen are."
Niger is still reeling from back-to-back terrorist attacks
in the past month, including the largest in its history on May 23, when suicide
bombers aligned with al-Qaeda attacked a military base and a French-run uranium
mine, killing three dozen people.
On June 1, suspected
jihadists attacked the prison in Niamey in a jail break that freed 22
prisoners. Those freed included a member of al-Qaeda's North African branch,
whose alleged crimes included killing a U.S. serviceman.
Abdou Sadi, whose house is not far from the college, said
the shooting Tuesday was still going on at around 11 p.m. local time. "The
camp where they train the gendarmes recruits seems to have been attacked,"
he said. "We can hear shots ringing out throughout our neighbourhood. It
appears that the combat is still happening."
Niger, one of the world's poorest nations, is in the
crosshairs of the al-Qaeda-linked groups which until recently were based in
Mali. French President Francois Hollande unilaterally authorized a military
intervention in Mali in January, after that country's president asked for help
to stave off an advance by the al-Qaida fighters. French troops have since been
joined by African forces from most of Mali's neighbours, including Niger, which
sent a battalion of several hundred.
The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, one of
the groups that claimed responsibility for the May 23 attack, had warned that
any African country that sends soldiers to Mali will pay the consequences.
Callimachi contributed to this report from Dakar, Senegal.