At least six French aid workers and their local guide have been shot dead by gunmen in southwestern Niger. The attack took place at a giraffe reserve outside the capital.
Tidjani Ibrahim Katiella, the governor of Niger's Tillaberi region, told the AFP news agency Sunday that at least eight people were killed by gunmen riding motorcycles in a wildlife park in southwester Niger.
"There are eight dead: two Nigeriens including a guide and a driver, while the other six are French," Katiella said.
"We are managing the situation, we will give more information later," the governor added, without saying who was behind the assault.
The Elysee Palace confirmed that French citizens were killed in the attack. President Emmanuel Macron expressed his condolences for the victims in a statement, denouncing the violence as "cowardly."
French authorities regularly warn citizens against travelling to most parts of Niger, where militant groups, including Boko Haram and affiliates of the "Islamic State" (IS) group are active. The West African country's Kouré area, however, is considered relatively safe
Sources say the attack took place around 11:30 a.m. (1030 GMT) 6 kilometers (about 4 miles) east of Kouré, which is an hour's drive from the capital, Niamey.
"Most of the victims were shot... We found a magazine emptied of its cartridges at the scene," a source told AFP. "We do not know the identity of the attackers but they came on motorcycles through the bush and waited for the arrival of the tourists."
While officials first described them as tourists, the French humanitarian organization ACTED said that its staff members were involved in the attack on Sunday.
Niger Defense Minister Issoufou Katambé separately told news agency Reuters that six victims worked for an international aid group.
The area where the attack occurred is home to the last West African giraffes. The Koure Giraffe Reserve southeast of Niamey is a popular tourist attraction in Niger, a country that borders seven countries in an unstable region including Libya, Mali, Chad and Nigeria.
Jihadi activities in the region
In January, Nigerien authorities banned the use of motorcycles in an attempt to curb the movements of jihadis.
France, a former colonial power in the region, launched a coalition of West African and European allies in June to fight Islamist militants in the Sahel region, which includes Niger.
Read more: Anti-French sentiment on the rise in West Africa as security situation deteriorates
In October 2017, militants linked to IS killed four US soldiers in an ambush in Niger.
Read more: US troop drawdown from Sahel puts pressure on Europe
shs/rc (AFP, Reuters