Niger’s parliament has unanimously approved sending troops to the northern part of Nigeria, as part of a regional offensive against the Islamist group (Boko Haram), that has launched several cross-border attacks in recent days.
Security sources said soldiers in Diffa, a town on Niger’s border with Nigeria, shot dead a suicide bomber heading on foot towards a military base and warned that Boko Haram had infiltrated groups of civilians who had crossed into Niger.
Nigeria, Benin, Niger, Chad and Cameroon agreed at the weekend to send a joint force of 8,700 troops to battle the militant group, which had killed thousands of people and kidnapped hundreds more in its bid to carve out a caliphate.
The general elections in Nigeria that was earlier scheduled to hold on February 14, had been shifted to March 28 by the electoral body.
In the last few days, Niger has massed more than 3,000 troops in Diffa on its southeastern border with Nigeria, awaiting approval to go on the offensive.
Niger’s Parliamentary Speaker, Adamou Salifou, said on Monday, after the vote that was supported by all 102 deputies present, that “the pooling of the efforts and resources of concerned countries would contribute without doubt, to crushing this group which shows scorn, through its barbaric acts, for the Muslim religion.”
On Monday, Boko Haram militants reportedly bombed Diffa leaving five people dead. This was its third attack in the area in four days. It also carried out raids in neighboring Cameroon, where a bus full of passengers was kidnapped.
The residents in Diffa, which lies about few miles away from the territory controlled by Boko Haram, had long spoken of sleeper cells infiltrating their communities.
Several security sources warned that the militants, who had been living among civilians in northern Nigeria, were among those who had fled to Niger with them.
“Most of the Boko Haram fighters who have operated in Diffa have come from these displaced.
“They are Nigerian refugees or people from Niger who had been in Nigeria.
“There are real networks,” a security officer said.
An intensification of Boko Haram violence near Lake Chad, which straddles Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger, had sent tens of thousands of Nigerians, fleeing across the border.
Diffa was mainly quiet on Tuesday but residents were scrambling for buses out.
“The situation in Diffa is very serious, We will do everything to protect the population.
“We will wage war against Boko Haram all the way to its last hideout,” Niger Defense Minister, Karidio Mahamadou, said on a private radio station.