Armed men on motorcycles killed at least 58 people in southwestern Niger when they intercepted a convoy returning from a weekly market and attacked a nearby village, the government has said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Monday’s massacres, though extremists belonging to the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara group were known to be active in the Tillaberi region where the villages were attacked.
The victims were returning home from a large livestock market in Banibangou, near Niger’s troubled border with Mali.
The militants also destroyed nearby granaries that held valuable food stores.
The announcement was read on Niger state television Tuesday evening by government spokesman Abdourahmane Zakaria , who declared three days of national mourning for the victims.
“These individuals then gutlessly and cruelly proceeded to carry out targeted executions of passengers,” he said.
“In the village of Darey Dey, they killed people and burned the granaries.”
The region has seen increasingly deadly attacks by militants with links to Islamic State and Al Qaeda.
Suspected militants killed at least 100 civilians on January 2 in raids on two villages in Tillabery, one of the deadliest episodes in the country’s recent history.
The violence is part of a wider security crisis in West Africa’s Sahel region.
Many of the militant attacks are concentrated where the borders of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso meet, a zone that a 5,000-strong French anti-militant task force has targeted heavily.
Niger and its neighbours have also experienced tit-for-tat killings between rival ethnic communities, stoked by the militant violence and competition for scarce resources.
Extremists staged mass attacks on Niger’s military in the Tillaberi region, killing more than 70 in December 2019 and more than 89 in January 2020.
Four US Special Forces soldiers were killed along with five Nigerian colleagues in 2017.