PARIS (AP) — French anti-terrorism prosecutors formally opened an investigation one day after eight people, including six French nationals, were killed by gunmen in a Niger giraffe park.
Seven of the eight people were aid workers working in the West African country, two European aid groups said Monday.
The six French citizens and one Nigerien were working for Paris-based NGO ACTED and Geneva-based IMPACT Initiatives. The other victim was their Nigerien guide.
The NGOs condemned “in the strongest terms the senseless and barbaric killing of our colleagues and their guide.”
French prosecutors said in a statement Monday they opened an investigation for “murders in relation to a terrorist undertaking.”
Niger’s interior ministry said Sunday the attack took place in Koure, where the aid workers were visiting a giraffe reserve. Hundreds of people visit each year the protected national park that contains dense vegetation and tall trees about 70 kilometers (45 miles) southeast of the capital.
“Our colleagues have been working to support the people of Niger facing hardship, driven by values of humanity and solidarity,” the NGOs said.
The Association of Giraffe Guides of Koure also released a statement condemning the death of the president of their association, Kadri Abdou.
“We are deeply saddened and thinking of the victims and their families to whom we offer our most sincere condolences and especially to the family of Kadri, our friend. May he rest in peace,” said the statement.
One of the biggest French NGOs, ACTED has been present in Niger since 2010 and provides aid to displaced people and local populations who are particularly vulnerable due to conflicts in the region, lack of food and droughts.
A partner to ACTED, IMPACT Initiatives was first deployed in Niger in 2012. It conducts mapping programs and other projects in camps hosting displaced populations.
In a phone call on Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron and Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou pledged to clarify the circumstances of the deadly attack by “all means,” the French presidency said.
French Foreign Affairs minister Jean-Yves Le Drian condemned the attack on Monday, saying that those responsible “will have to answer for their acts.”
The ministry’s crisis center and the French embassy in Niger are fully mobilized to support the victims’ families, he said.
The French government has warned citizens against traveling outside Niger’s capital, Niamey, as militants linked to Boko Haram, Islamic State and al-Qaida carry out attacks across the vast West African nation. Niger borders several countries including Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Nigeria and Libya.
Violence by rebels linked to the IS group and al-Qaida is on the rise in the Sahel region. France has deployed 5,100 soldiers to help fight the growing insurgency there, and a local Sahel force made up of soldiers from Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania has also been fighting the extremists.
Petesch reported from Dakar, Senegal.