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The Battle of the Sahel Claims More Lives

A hundred civilians were killed in attacks by suspected militants in the West African nation of Niger on Saturday, according to government officials. Armed men shot men and boys in what was said to be a revenge attack on the villages of Tchoma Bangou and Zaroumadareye. The villages are in the southwestern region of Tillabéri, where civilians have increasingly come under attack in the past two years. “They opened fire on everybody,” said Jahafar Koudize, a resident of Tchoma Bangou who managed to escape. The attack, which came just a week after Niger’s presidential election, is one of the country’s deadliest ever. Prime Minister Brigi Rafini, in remarks broadcast Sunday on national television from a visit to the area of the assaults, put the death toll at 100 but did not say who was responsible. Since rebels and armed Islamists took control of cities in neighboring Mali in 2012, the terrorist threat has spread across the Sahel, a strip of land south of the Sahara. At the same time, military forces in several Sahelien countries, including Niger, have carried out grave abuses. Niger’s efforts to contain the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara have been unsuccessful, experts say, and security forces are increasingly pulling back from the region. Niger held the first round of its presidential election on Dec. 27, and the vote is expected to result in the country’s first peaceful, democratic transfer of power. President Mahamadou Issoufou is stepping down after serving the two terms allowed under the Constitution. The governing party candidate, Mohamed Bazoum, will face a former president, Mahamane Ousmane, in a runoff to be held in February.