, ZINDER, Niger, Feb 20 – Aboubacar, usually a worker for a non-governmental organisation, has now taken on another, more ominous role: watching out for suicide bombers.
“We watch everyone,” he said in Niger’s second-largest city of Zinder. “Last Thursday, a man in a turban whom we had never seen before came to the mosque. We asked him to leave.”
His fears reflect the shifting threat of Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, which has in recent weeks carried out attacks across the border from its base in northeastern Nigeria as regional forces pursue them.
In the southern city of Zinder, the hot, dusty streets have seen a trail of refugees from Niger’s Diffa, about 400 kilometres (250 miles) to the east.
Since February 6, Boko Haram has launched five bloody attacks in Diffa border territory. Zinder has so far been spared, but residents and local officials fear the violence could further spread. READ: Suicide attacks kill 38 as Boko Haram threatens Nigeria vote.
The attacks have come as Niger moved to deploy troops to join a burgeoning regional campaign against the jihadists, who have taken control of swathes of northeastern Nigeria at a cost of more than 13,000 lives since 2009.
While the regional response has led to the beginnings of a fight back, it has also introduced new risks.
A recent air strike killed at least 36 mourners and wounded 27 others at a funeral in Abadan village straddling the border with Nigeria.
Some blamed the attack on Niger’s own military, which declared that the aircraft’s “origins remain undetermined”. A local elected leader said that the Nigerian army was suspected, but Nigeria’s air force denied all responsibility.