At least 10 aid workers were kidnapped in Niger’s Tillaberi region in the southwest near the border with Burkina Faso, the organisation that they work for said.
The aid workers, all local, work for the Action and Impact Programme in the Sahel (APIS), a non-governmental organization which is a partner of the UN World Food Programme.
An official with APIS, Kadidiatou Harouna, told AFP that the armed assailants also seized two APIS 4x4s. According to Harouna, this is the first-such incident in which aid workers have been taken hostage in the region.
Harouna added that the NGO had operated in the area near the borders with Burkina Faso and Mali without problems over the past year.
The group behind the attack, which occurred on Wednesday, has not yet been identified.
Islamist groups, such as the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), have made the area into a hideout since 2018 when a German aid worker and an Italian priest were kidnapped.
A number of vehicles belonging to aid groups, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), have also been seized in the past by armed gunmen. According to authorities, a vehicle belonging to MSF was used last year in a botched attack on a prison near Niamey where jihadists are being detained.
Countries in the Sahel region, particularly Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, have been plagued by deadly ethnic and jihadist violence in recent years.
France and the United Nations have deployed thousands of soldiers in the region; in addition to those countries increasing their own troops, to tackle Islamist insurgencies. However, violence by groups linked to Al-Qaeda and Islamic State has risen and the security situation worsened in 2019.