NIAMEY (Reuters) - Gunmen killed two guards and wounded around 10 other people in an attack on a prison in Niger's capital Niamey on Saturday, a week after al Qaeda-linked groups raided a uranium mine and an army barracks.
Local residents said the assault began at around 3 p.m. (1500 GMT) when a group of attackers opened fire on guards at the entrance to the prison. They said they also heard a loud explosion.
Ila Yaye, who lives near the prison, told Reuters she saw several of the guards fall and not get back up. It was not immediately clear who had carried out the attack.
"There are two dead and about 10 others wounded ... but this death toll could go up because several were seriously wounded," an officer in the police's intelligence division told Reuters, asking not to be named. A city official confirmed the toll.
A Reuters witness said gendarmes had rushed to the prison to reinforce guards who remained under fire for around 45 minutes. Local residents fled as police blocked off roads leading to the prison, allowing only ambulances into the area.
The police official said security forces were looking for part of the group believed to have fled aboard a truck. Other gunmen were thought to still be hiding out in houses near the prison.
Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a veteran of al Qaeda's North African operations, claimed that his fighters and the MUJWA militant group were behind attacks on an army barracks in Agadez on May 23 as well as a mine operated by French company Areva (AREVA.PA) in the remote town of Arlit.
He said the raids, which killed 24 soldiers and one civilian, had been launched in retaliation for Niger's role in a French-led war on armed Islamists groups in neighbouring Mali. (Reporting by Abdoulaye Massalatchi; Writing by Joe Bavier; editing by Patrick Graham)