NAIROBI, Kenya — Twin suicide assaults on two separate targets in Niger's desert north were audacious and unprecedented in the country pointing to a worrying regional spread of Al Qaeda-style terror attacks.
Suicide bombers in Niger bombed a military barracks and a French-run mine on Thursday. The blast at the barracks in the northern city of Agadez killed 19 people, including 18 soldiers, reported BBC.
Bombers at a uranium mine in Arlit injured 50 people. The mine was apparently guarded by Niger soldiers.
The Arlit mine saw seven workers, including five French nationals, kidnapped by Islamic militants in 2010, while four are still being held.
Thursday's dual blasts came about 30 minutes apart and the town of Agadez remains on military lockdown.
Subsequent gun battles with Islamic militants and the Niger military saw several soldiers dead. The jihadist group Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) claimed responsibility for the attacks.
The suicide attacks were the first in Niger since the French intervention in neighboring Mali to put down an Islamic insurgency.
MUJAO's choice of targets — a French uranium mine and a Nigerien military base — suggest the attacks are directly linked to the ongoing conflict in neighboring Mali.
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Niger has provided 650 soldiers to the UN mandated regional force in Mali which is being deployed to take over from France.
Mali suffered its first suicide bombings earlier this year, as French troops sought to oust jihaist groups — including Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and MUJAO — while suicide tactics were debuted by Nigeria's Boko Haram militants in an attack on the UN's headquarters in Abuja in 2011.
AFP reported that a MUJAO spokesperson said that the group carried out the attacks against the enemies of Islam in Niger.
"We attacked France, and Niger because of its cooperation with France, in the war against Shariah," he said, in reference to the French military operation in Mali.
Niger, which participated in the military assault on militants, has been a target of Islamist violence in recent months.
Niger has also participated in military interventions against Boko Haram in Nigeria recently.