DAKAR, Senegal – Gunmen killed eight people Sunday in a wildlife reserve in Niger, including six French aid workers, their Nigerian driver and a guide, according to authorities.
The group had traveled to the Kouré reserve in an area known as the Giraffe Zone, home to the only remaining West African giraffe population. But they had been there for less than an hour when they were shot, their car set on fire and their bodies left in the sand.
“It was horrible. We could not even look at the bodies, “said Djibo Hama, a spokesman for the Kouré Giraffe Guides Association, who saw the aftermath of the attack.”; They were brutally shot, but the arsonists also stole the car and some people. “It was horrible to see them lying on the ground in their blood.”
Some areas of Mali have been rocked by terrorist attacks in recent years, as have several West African neighbors. But the Giraffe Area is widely considered safe. The visitors were French aid workers, authorities said.
“Investigations are underway,” Abdourahamane Zakaria, a government spokesman, said in a written statement confirming the attack. A senior police officer said he was coordinating the regeneration of their bodies.
Six French migrants, a guide and a driver passed through a government checkpoint at 10 a.m. Sunday in the direction of Dosso, a town 85 miles southeast of Niamey, the capital, according to an internal message from the Nigerian military seen by the New York Times. Forty minutes later, the message said, people on a bus coming from Dosso informed staff at the checkpoint that an attack had occurred four miles away.
One of those killed was Kadri Abdou, president of the Gourffe gGuides Association of the Kouré Association, according to an announcement posted on Facebook.
“Kadri, along with a group of six French tourists and their Nigerian driver, were attacked and killed by a terrorist commando in the giraffe area,” it reads. “We are deeply saddened and are thinking of the victims and their families, to whom we offer our most sincere condolences – especially to the family of our friend Kadri.”
Images circulated between journalists and military personnel on WhatsApp showed the horrific scene of the attack. The group had been traveling in a car belonging to the French humanitarian organization ACTED, according to a statement from the Nigerian interior minister.
The giraffe reserve is a popular attraction in Niger, especially on weekends. There are now 600 giraffes there, an extraordinary turn from 1996, when it was thought there were only 49 left.
Nigeria is home to Air Base 201, a U.S. drone base that was recently completed but could soon be abandoned under a planned withdrawal of U.S. forces in the region.
Although Kouré is in the Tillabery region, where four U.S. Special Forces soldiers were killed in an attack in 2017, it is far from the site of this attack, which was on the other side of the capital. It also welcomes many visitors.
“Kouré is an area that has never known the slightest security incident, but even in the current context, the worst we expected would be the kidnapping of Western tourists, not a direct assassination,” he said. Hama.
Cheick Amadou Diouara contributed reporting from Gao, Mali and Omar Hama Saley from Niamey, Niger.