IS claims Niger attack that killed 18 soldiers
Boko Haram's Islamic State-backed faction on Wednesday claimed responsibility for an attack on an army camp in western Niger earlier in the week that killed 18 soldiers.
"Soldiers of the Caliphate attacked the Inates military base of the apostate Nigerien army near the Malian border, two days ago," the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) said a statement, according to SITE Intelligence which monitors jihadist activities worldwide.
ISWAP, a faction of the Boko Haram jihadist group, said that two of their fighters blew themselves up inside the army base to "pave the way for the attack".
Afterwards, ISWAP fighters engaged in clashes with the Niger soldiers on the camp's perimeter for several hours, killing and wounding dozens, the statement said.
It claimed that the Niger soldiers were forced to flee, while the ISWAP fighters "returned safely to their positions".
Niger's defence ministry said that the attack on Monday afternoon "began with the detonation of two suicide vehicles at the entrance to the camp, followed by gunfire from terrorists who arrived on motorbike".
"The counter-attack, with air support from our partners (French and American), enabled the enemy to be routed beyond our borders," the ministry said in a statement on Tuesday, adding that several "terrorists" were killed.
It said that four soldiers were missing as well as the 18 killed, but on Wednesday the interior ministry clarified that the number present at the time of the attack had been miscalculated, and none were missing.
Niger, one of the world's poorest countries, lies in the heart of the fragile Sahel region, which is battling an Islamist insurgency.
The base targeted in the attack, located in a volatile region, trains Nigerien soldiers to serve in a UN peacekeeping mission in Mali.
In 2016, ISWAP split from Boko Haram, which has waged a bloody insurgency in Nigeria that has spilled over the border with Niger and prompted the formation of a regional military coalition to battle the insurgents.
IS recently started attributing attacks in Niger and surrounding areas to ISWAP, rather than the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), according to analysts.
The latest attack comes ahead of Niger's capital Niamey hosting an African Union summit from July 4-8, bringing together some 50 heads of state. A heavy security force has been deployed in Niamey for the event.