French and Nigerien troops killed ten Islamists in the central city of Agadez on Friday, two of whom were suspected of involvement in car bomb attacks on an army barrack and a French uranium mine in the African country a day earlier.
French special forces joined the operation at the request of Niger’s government, defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told BFM television. His country earlier stationed troops in northern Niger to protect its desert uranium mines there which provide up to one fifth of the fuel for France’s nuclear reactors.
Areva, the company that operates the mines, said one of its employees had died as a result of Thursday’s attack. Another fourteen were wounded. Several Nigerien soldiers were killed in gun battle during the assault on their base in Agadez. Two more were killed during Friday’s operation.
The leader of terrorist group Al Qaeda’s North Africa wing had claimed responsibility for Thursday’s attacks, describing them as retaliation for Niger’s participation in the counterinsurgency campaign in neighboring Mali where France intervened earlier this year to help suppress an Islamist uprising.
Islamists were forced out of Mali’s cities and major towns and driven into the unruly border area with Algeria, Libya and Niger by French airstrikes and a joint French-Malian ground offensive. They had earlier sidelined Tuareg separatists in the north of the country, who have long struggled for independence from the central government in Bamako, to declare an Islamic state in a territory that is locally known as Azawad and roughly comparable in size to metropolitan France.
Niger deployed 650 of its own troops to Mali as part of a regional peacekeeping operation that is supposed to prevent the Islamists from resurging.