About 40 Nigerien civilians were killed in an attack in southwestern Niger near the Malian border on Monday, a security source said.

“They were villagers returning from a weekly market who were attacked by unidentified gunmen,” the source told Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity due to restrictions to speak to the media.

The government has yet to issue an official statement on the incident that took place in the Banibangou town of Tillaberi region.

An ethnic group was targeted in the attack, according to local Actuniger website.

The Tillaberi region has been frequently targeted by terrorist groups based in Mali since 2017, with a state of emergency declared in the area.

Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali in the Sahel are at the epicenter of one of the world’s fastest-growing displacement and protection crises.

The region is already hosting 851,000 refugees and nearly 2 million displaced people, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

In January, around 100 people were also killed in attacks after the first round of presidential elections. The incidents occurred in two villages in Tillaberi.

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