On 23 May, Islamist bombers attacked the military base of Agadez and the French run uranium mine at Arlit, killing 25 people. The soundly planned strikes against these high-profile targets were claimed by the militant group MUJWA (The Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa) and possibly assisted by Algerian and Libyan groups. The attacks were considered as retaliation for the French-led intervention in northern Mali and as reprisal for Niger’s leading role in the West African force active there. MUJWA’s spokesman claimed more attacks would follow across the region, dropping target names as Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire and Benin, all countries supporting the French offensive.

Impact on country risk

This event highlights the growing regional dimension of the threat posed by Islamist groupings across West Africa, a traditionally moderate region. Ever since the French intervention in Mali early 2013, Niger has been showing high vulnerability to spill-overs of Islamist attacks from across the porous Malian border and to the replication of separatism in Niger’s Tuareg-dominated north. As Niger hosts US, French and African forces, it makes it a prime target for multiple Saharan Islamist groups. Moreover, the country very recently participated to military operations in northern Nigeria against Boko Haram insurgents, increasing the risk for retaliation attacks across its southern border region. As the security crises in Mali, Libya and northern Nigeria persist, US and French military presence is bound to only grow bigger. Yet the reinforcement of French military presence will be primarily motivated by the country’s vast economic interests in the region – for example Niger holds about one fifth of the uranium used for French nuclear reactors – which are perceived as prime terrorist targets. Henceforth, the vast Saharan region is likely to become increasingly militarised to counter the cross-border dispersal of Islamist militant groups, especially targeting French interests and countries that have assisted the military campaign in Mali.

Analyst: Louise Van Cauwenbergh, l.vancauwenbergh@credendogroup.com