Gunmen attack Niger prison holding Islamist militants – minister

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Gunmen attacked a high-security Gunmen attacked a high-security prison in Niger early on Monday in an apparent bid to free Islamist militants, the interior minister said.

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in Niger early on Monday in an apparent bid to free Islamist militants, the interior minister said.

The attackers tried to lay siege to Koutoukale prison, about 50km (30 miles) from the capital Niamey, but were repelled, Mohamed Bazoum told Reuters, without going into further details on the fight or whether anyone escaped.

The land-locked West African country is surrounded by unstable states, most of them struggling with Islamist insurgencies.

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Jihadist group Boko Haram – some of whose fighters are held in Koutoukale – has launched raids from southern neighbour Nigeria. Militants have also crossed over from Mali to its west, and the Libyan war to its north threatens the whole region.

Bazoum said the most likely culprits for Monday’s attack were the Mali-based Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) – one of a number of groups that have long exploited the largely unpoliced Sahara.

“I can confirm one dead among the attackers. He was wearing a suicide vest,” Bazoum told Reuters by phone. “The situation is now under control and our forces are combing the area to try to catch the attackers still at large.

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The attack came days after gunmen raided the house of a U.S. aid worker in central Niger, killed his guards and drove him across the desert towards Mali.

Gunmen also attacked a refugee camp in Niger’s western Tahoua region, bordering Mali, earlier this month, killing 22 soldiers.

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