Nigerien and French soldiers on Monday combed a wildlife reserve in Niger and the surrounding area for traces of the gunmen who killed six French aid workers yesterday, a French military source told Reuters.
Reports say the unidentified attackers rode on motorbikes and ambushed the group who worked for the humanitarian charity ACTED, as it drove through the game reserve which is about 65km (40 miles) from Niamey, an area considered fortified and safe by the Nigerien government.
A Nigerien guide and a local driver employed by ACTED were also killed.
ACTED described the murders “senseless and cowardly”.
“This heinous crime must not go unpunished, nor will it distract us from our commitment to support the people of Niger”, ACTED said in a statement.
No one has claimed responsibility for the assault, but France and other countries have warned people against travelling to parts of Niger where militants including Boko Haram and an affiliate of Islamic State operate.
“Military operations are ongoing today,” the military source said.
French President Emmanuel Macron said he shared their families’ grief.
“Our determination to combat armed terrorist groups is resolute. The fight continues,” Macron tweeted.
The reserve, southeast of the capital, is a popular attraction in Niger, a vast country that borders seven states in an unstable region including Libya, Mali, Chad, Algeria and Nigeria.
France, a former colonial power has 5,100 troops deployed in the arid region south of the Sahara Desert since 2013. The US also has soldiers based in Niger.