NIAMEY, June 12 (Reuters) - Niger’s security forces repelled an overnight assault by gunmen on a military police academy in the capital Niamey, the defence minister said on Wednesday, an attack likely to heighten concerns over the Islamist threat in the West African nation.
The attack on the academy in Niamey’s northern Koirategui suburb followed a June 1 assault on a prison in the capital, during which more than 20 Islamist prisoners escaped.
In late May, there were twin suicide bombings at a French-run uranium mine and military barracks in Niger’s desert north.
Defence Minister Mahamadou Karidjo said at least three motorcyclists had opened fire on a guardpost at the academy late on Tuesday. At the same time, two men attempted to scale the outer wall but were spotted by a guard, who opened fire.
The assailants escaped under cover of gunfire from a nearby 4x4 vehicle, he said.
“The gendarmes were able to repel all of these attacks and we suffered no casualties in our ranks,” the minister told Reuters.
Residents reported sporadic gunfire for around an hour around the military base. Military police combed the neighbourhood, which was plunged into darkness by a power cut, but were unable to locate any of the attackers.
The assault on the Niamey prison killed two guards and freed 22 prisoners including several convicted on terrorism charges. Among them was Alassane Ould Mohamed, who was serving a 20-year sentence for the murder of four Saudi Arabians and an American.
Niger has deployed 650 troops in neighbouring Mali to assist in a French-led push against Islamist rebels who seized the northern two-thirds of the country last year. Niger’s participation prompted threats of reprisals by militant groups.
The Islamist attack on the Areva mine in Arlit and the barracks in Agadez last month, which killed 25 people, was claimed by the MUJWA group that seized part of north Mali last year and the Mulathameen brigade of veteran jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar.
Ten Islamists fighters also died in the May raids. (Reporting by Abdoulaye Massalatchi; Writing by Daniel Flynn; editing by Mike Collett-White)