Niger detains an activist in an air raid case

Prosecutors say the head of a leading group in Niger has been arrested in a case related to an army air strike on suspected jihadists in the south of the country.

Prosecutor Chibo Moussa said on television this evening that Abdoulaye Sido, the head of an activist group called M62, appeared before the Niamey Criminal Court on Monday.

Musa said he was placed in pretrial detention.

M62 and other civilian groups have accused defense and security forces of killing civilians when they launched helicopter strikes on an illegal gold mine last October, on the grounds that the alleged killers of two police officers had holed up there.

The government admitted carrying out air strikes after two policemen were killed in Tamu, near the border with Burkina Faso.

It added that seven were killed and 24 wounded in the raids, but the political opposition and civil groups say the death toll is much higher.

Moussa said that after the “terrorist” attack on the police station and the army’s response, “unidentified people” went to the gold mine “to burn shops and warehouses used as housing.”

Citing a police investigation, Musa said the fires were intended to create false evidence to incriminate the military and “support allegations of massacres”.

Falmata Taya, a senior M62 official, admitted that the movement’s members went to Tamu two days after the airstrikes but only to “check facts on the ground”.

Niger, the poorest country in the world according to the United Nations Human Development Index, is struggling with a jihadist insurgency in the country’s southwest and southeast.

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