Security - Niger has recently been hit by criminal activities from terrorist organisations such as Al- Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its branches in the Sahel, the Movement for Jihad and Unity in West Africa (MUJAO) or Ansardine, even though the country does not host the organisations. The criminal activities include drug trafficking and the kidnapping of Westerners, who are then transferred to Northern Mali, the stronghold of the organisations.
The activities continued despite efforts by the Nigerien authorities to tackle crime and secure its borders with its northern neighbors, including Libya and Algeria, as well as its North-western neighbor - Mali.
The populations living in the northern regions of the Sahel, especially the poor and those neglected by the government, have often sworn allegiance to these criminal groups in a bid to get protection and financial support from the groups.
With the support of these vulnerable populations, members of AQIM, MUJAO or Ansardine have been able to settle there and put in place a system likely to provide them with the necessary resources to carry out their operations in this part of the Sahel region, taking advantage of the weak presence or absence of the governments’ institutions.
Several kidnappings of Western tourists were committed in northern Niger, and sometimes in the South, by armed groups who claimed to be members of AQIM or its affiliated branches.
Such kidnappings, some of which ended with the execution of the hostages, include the following:
14 Dec. 2008: Two Canadian diplomats Robert Fowler and Louis Guay were kidnapped in Niger. AQIM’s leader Moctar Ben Moctar claimed responsibility for the abduction and demanded the release of Mauritanians, members of Al Qaeda who were arrested a few months earlier in an unnamed Sahel country. The two hostages were freed in Mali on 21 April 2009.
22 Jan. 2009: Four European tourists including two Swiss, a German and a Briton were abducted near the border between Mali and Niger. On 3 June, AQIM said it had killed the Briton. The three other hostages were released between April and July.
19 April, 2010: 78-year-old Frenchman Michel Germaneau and his Algerian driver were kidnapped in northern Niger. The following month, AQIM claimed responsibility for the abduction and issued an audio recording and a picture of Frenchman. Germaneau, who had been visibly ill from his captivity died, before the intervention of a joint French-Mauritanian military operation launched on 22 July 2010. The retired engineer who had turned into humanitarian worker had been suffering from serious heart problems.
16 Sept. 2010: 5 Frenchmen, a Togolese and a Malagasy, all employees at the France-based mining firms Areva and Satom, were abducted in the mining region of Arlit, in northern Niger. They were later on taken to the mountainous region of North Mali, an AQIM stronghold. Five months later, on 4 February, 2011, the Frenchwoman Françoise Larribe, the Togolese Alex Kodjo Ahonado and the Malagasy Jean-Claude Rakotorilalao were set free in Nigerien territory. Thierry Dol, Daniel Larribe, Marc Feret and Pierre Legrand were released after more than three years in captivity, following the mediation of the Nigerien government.
7 Jan. 2011: Two Frenchmen were abducted from a restaurant located in Nigerien capital, Niamey, by unidentified gunmen. The abduction of the two Frenchmen ended badly with their execution by their captors in Mali.
14 Oct. 2012: Eleven armed men stormed a building housing several NGOs in Dakoro, a town located in Central Niger. Six aid workers were abducted while another one was killed on the spot. The hostages were released one month later near the border with Niger and Mali border.