A Niger city was on lockdown Wednesday after suspected IS-linked Boko Haram militants launched an attack, killing police, taking hostages, and blowing themselves up with suicide vests, officials said.
The jihadists infiltrated various parts of Diffa, a southeastern city of some 200,000 inhabitants, on Tuesday night and attacked the central police barracks. Fighting continued into Wednesday.
“They mainly attacked a group of police,” said the secretary-general of Diffa governorate Yahaya Godi.
After several hours of fighting, the attackers holed up in the home of a policeman and took several people hostage, before blowing themselves up, said Godi and other sources.
It was unclear if the hostages were killed in the blast.
“We do not have a definitive death toll yet,” Godi told AFP.
Two security force members and two jihadists were killed, according to provisional figures, he said.
The SITE intelligence group, which monitors jihadist activity, reported “dozens” were killed and wounded in the raids.
The Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), the IS-linked faction of Boko Haram, claimed responsibility for what was described as a four-man suicide raid on a guard post in Diffa, SITE said.
Residents told AFP they heard gunshots and loud explosions near the city police station.
Without explicitly confirming the attack was over, officials said “sweep operations” were taking place to find possible attackers.
Earlier, a Diffa resident told AFP the police were “still trying to dislodge them”.
Possible suicide bomber targets such as schools and markets would remain closed for two or three days “as a precaution”, Godi said.
Diffa is close to northeastern Nigeria and borders the Lake Chad basin. It has suffered repeated attacks from Boko Haram.
In an overnight attack some 70 kilometres west of Diffa, attackers linked to Boko Haram “slaughtered” the village chief of Tam and abducted two residents, according to a local NGO.
An estimated 27,000 people have been killed and two million displaced since Boko Haram launched its insurgency in northeastern Nigeria in 2009, a campaign that has spilled over to Niger as well as Burkina Faso and Chad.
Across Niger, 88 civilians were killed by Boko Haram in March alone, and more than 18,000 people forced to flee their villages, according to the United Nations.
The UN has expressed alarm by the “rapid deterioration of the security situation” in the Diffa region.