Unidentified gunmen attack prison in Niger | Africa | DW | 01.06.2013
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Unidentified gunmen attack prison in Niger

Local witnesses have reported gun fire and explosions at a prison in Niger's capital. It was not immediately clear whether the assault was linked to unprecedented twin bombings which left over 20 dead last week.

Gunmen launched a raid on the Niamey central prison Saturday afternoon, according to eye witnesses. At least two guards died in the attack. The number of wounded was not immediately available.

Local residents said they heard shooting beginning around 3 p.m. local time (1400 UTC), followed by at least one explosion. Authorities rushed to the scene, which they blocked off as they exchanged fire with the gunmen for at least 45 minutes.

Niger's Ministry of Justice later confirmed the reports.

"The civilian prison of Niamey was attacked. We have confirmation of the death of two guards," Nigerien Justice Minister Marou Amadou told the news agency AFP, adding that the perpetrators had not yet been identified.

Saturday's attack came less than two weeks after Islamists carried out twin bombings in the Nigerien cities of Argadez and Arlit, which lie about 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) northeast of the capital city.

The first bomb killed at least 20 soldiers on a military base in Argadez. The second bombing occurred at a French-operated mine in Arlit, owned by the company Areva.

Islamist extremist group, Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, or MUJAO, claimed responsibility for the attacks. The al Qaeda-linked group said the violence was retribution for France and Niger's "war against Shariah," referring in part to both countries' involvement in a military intervention against Islamist fighters in the north of Mali earlier this year.

kms/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters)