At least 23 people were reported dead in attacks on a Niger military base and a Areva SA (AREVA) uranium mine as one of the Islamist groups that prompted French strikes on neighboring Mali claimed responsibility.
Radio France International cited government officials it didn’t identify for the death toll. Interior Minister Abdou Labo told reporters in Niamey, the capital, that at least 19 people are confirmed dead, including 18 soldiers. Four of the attackers were killed, he said, and a fifth was holding hostages at the Agadez base.
Areva, the French maker of nuclear fuel and reactors, said one of its workers died and 14 were injured at the site near Arlit, 240 kilometers (149 miles) north of Agadez.
Forces in Niger have stepped up “security on all of our sites” following the assault at about 5:30 a.m. local time at the Somair uranium mine near Arlit in the north, Areva said in a statement. The injured people were transferred to the Somair hospital, Areva said.
Areva, which produced more than 4,500 metric tons of uranium in Niger last year out of total production of 9,760 tons, increased security measures at its sites in the West African nation after seven workers employed by the company and a unit of Vinci SA (DG) were kidnapped in 2010, and again as French military forces intervened to oust rebels in Mali earlier this year.
Responsibility for the attacks was claimed by the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, known by their French acronym Mujao, according to RFI. The group is among Islamist insurgents, including al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, who took over most of northern Mali until the French campaign to push them out.
Areva owns 63.6 percent of Somair, the company that operates the mine, and the government of Niger owns the rest. The site produced 3,000 tons of uranium last year, the company said in December.
The French company also owns 34 percent of Cominak, another uranium mine in Niger, and is in talks to sell part of its majority stake in Imouraren SA, a third production site being developed in the country, to China National Nuclear Corp.
Niger, which started oil production in the south in 2011, has previously battled insurgencies led by ethnic Touaregs in the remote north along the edge of the Sahara, where tourists once visited ancient carvings and mosques on desert journeys.
While Touaregs were early drivers of the rebellion in neighboring Mali that started in late 2011, they were later largely overpowered by the al-Qaeda-linked groups, cedeing much of their territory until the French campaign.
A group of terrorists killed at least 38 hostages in an attack on a gas complex in Algeria, which neighbors Mali and Niger, earlier this year.
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