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‘Ferocious’ Niger battle leaves dozens of soldiers and militants dead

At least 12 soldiers and “dozens of terrorists” have been killed in a battle in western Niger, the defence ministry says, in the conflict-wracked “three borders” zone.

Another eight soldiers were wounded in the clash with “hundreds of armed terrorists” 5km (three miles) from Fantio, the ministry statement on Sunday said.

Several motorbikes used by the attackers had been destroyed and communications equipment recovered, the statement added.

The soldiers had “defended themselves ferociously”, killing dozens of the attackers before being overwhelmed by their numbers.

Reinforcements from nearby positions and air support had finally forced the enemy to retreat.

Fantio is a small rural community in the Tera district of Tillaberio region, regularly targeted by jihadist groups affiliated with al-Qaida or Islamic State.

Five villagers were killed and two others seriously wounded in an attack there in May during the Muslim festival of Eid at the end of the Ramadan, the ministry said.

In late June two civilians – a school director and a retired police inspector – were killed during another raid, during which their killers also stole livestock.

As well as the attacks from jihadist groups such as Islamic State in the Greater Sahara in the west of the country, Niger also has to contend with Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province in the south-west of the country, near the border with Nigeria.

The arid Sahel state is the world’s poorest country, according to the UN’s human development index.