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Niger to Intensify Fight Against Militants After Bombings

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May 24 (Bloomberg) -- Niger vowed to step up its fight against Islamist militants after twin suicide bombings killed 23 people as a group involved in an assault on an Algerian gas complex this year said it participated in the attacks.

Mokhtar Belmokhtar, leader of the al-Moulathamoun Islamist movement linked to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, said his group participated in yesterday’s attacks, ANI Mauritania reported. The former Algerian soldier, also known as Bellawar, or “One-Eyed,” was involved in taking hostages at the In Amenas gas complex in Algeria in January.

Nigerian soldiers, aided by French special forces, killed the last two jihadists holed up on a military based in Agadez, 738 kilometers (459 miles) northeast of Niger’s capital, Niamey, the Associated Press reported late today. They also liberated two hostages, AP said, bringing the reponse operation to an end.

Eighteen soldiers died in the earlier attack in Agadez, while at least 13 employees of French nuclear company Areva SA were injured in a simultaneous explosion at a mine it operates in the town of Arlit. The attack was the first of its kind in Niger, which accounts for 40 percent of France’s uranium imports, according to Stratfor, the Texas-based consulting firm.

“What happened at Agadez and Arlit indicates that we need more determination, more money and more action,” Niger Foreign Minister Mohammed Bazoum said in an interview with Radio France International.

Weapons Proliferation

Niger is the world’s fourth-biggest producer of uranium, the fuel used in nuclear power plants, according to the website of the World Nuclear Association.

The West African nation shares borders with Mali, where French military forces intervened earlier this year to fight Islamist rebels, and Libya, where conflict after the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011 led to a proliferation of weapons and armed groups.

French President Francois Hollande said the bombings in Niger were a “direct” attack on the country’s interests.

Nigeriens “were assassinated in a cowardly way because they supported us,” he said today in Paris. “It’s further proof that the fight against terrorism involves all countries at some point and all countries must take part if they share our values.”

Forces in Niger 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 company, 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 Niger after seven workers employed by the company and a unit of Vinci SA were kidnapped in 2010, and again as French military forces intervened in Mali.

Uranium

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.

The attacks may affect the eventual sale price of the mine, Philip de Pontet, head of Africa research at Eurasia Group, said in an e-mailed research note.

“That asset may have already lost some of its value and Areva’s security spending will escalate sharply just to contain the threat to Somair and its other asset Cominak,” De Pontet said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Paul Richardson in Nairobi at pmrichardson@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at asguazzin@bloomberg.net

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