Gunmen opened fire on a prison in the center of Niger's capital Niamey on Saturday, witnesses said, a week after Al Qaeda-linked fighters launched twin attacks on a military base and a French uranium mine in the West African nation.
Local residents said the assault began at around 3 p.m. when the attackers opened fire on guards at the entrance to the prison. They said they also heard a loud explosion.
"We were sitting there when we saw these armed men start to shoot at the guards... I saw several of them fall and not get back up," Ila Yaye, who lives near the prison, told Reuters. It was not immediately clear who carried out the attack.
A Reuters witness said Nigerien gendarmes 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.
Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a veteran of Al Qaeda's North African operations, claimed that his fighters and the MUJWA militant group carried out the attacks on Areva's mine in the remote town of Arlit and an army barracks in Agadez on May 23.
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.