The hunt continues
The hunt is continuing in the Sahel for the killers of eight people in Niger on Sunday.
The killers were believed to be armed motorcyclists who came through the bush on motorbikes, to arrive at the vicinity of the town of Koure. The eight victims consisted of six French nationals, and a Nigerian guide and driver. They were a team from the French humanitarian aid organisation ACTED.
The killings, an hour from the capital Niamey in a nature reserve considered relatively safe, shocked many; foreign nationals and members of aid organisations have previously not been considered in danger in such areas.
Troops in Niger backed by French air support are searching for the killers of the eight strong team.
French soldiers have been engaged in Operation Barkhane, an ongoing anti-insurgent mission targeting Islamist groups in Africa's Sahel region, since 2014. It's previously concentrated on the tri-border region between Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso with the backing of the G5 Sahel member nations after the group's formation a few months earlier.
The G5 Sahel was formed to closely link economic development and a united front of security against jidahist organisations between the members: Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. The United Nations Security Council has also approved G5 Sahel counterterrorism operations.
Jihadists change approach?
The killings in Kouré have suggested to some analysts that jihadist groups are moving to different areas to avoid direct confrontation with the military forces of Operation Barkhane, despite the cooperative framework provided by G5 Sahel.
In Niger, as elsewhere in the Sahel, these groups thrive on a perception of the abandonment of rural populations and pre-existing conflicts between communities.
Although they have in the past been able to collaborate episodically on targeted attacks, the various jihadist groups in the Sahel have been fighting each other since early 2020.
In a recent report, the think-thank International Crisis Group explained that the conflict in the Tillabéri area is "fundamentally motivated by inter and intra-community competition over rights and resources, a conflict that the Islamic state has been able to exploit to its advantage".