Thousands protest against Boko Haram in Niger capital

People hold signs during a protest against deadly raids by Boko Haram on February 17, 2015 in front of the National Assembly in Niamey Image copyright AFP
Image caption Demonstrators in Niamey said they were there to show support for the country's armed forces

Thousands of people have marched in Niger's capital to protest against Boko Haram, which has launched deadly raids into the country from Nigeria.

The demonstrators were led by Niger's Prime Minister Brigi Rafini and protected by a heavy police presence.

There were fears that the Nigeria-based Islamist group, which is known for suicide attacks, would target the march but it passed peacefully.

Boko Haram has intensified attacks in Niger's border areas in recent weeks.

The march ended outside the parliament building in Niamey, where President Mamahadou Issoufou told the crowds that "Niger will be the tomb" of the Islamists, according to the AFP news agency.

"Nobody attacks Niger without punishment and Boko Haram learned that to its cost last 6 February," Mr Issoufou said, referring to the group's attack on Niger's Diffa region, which was repelled.

"That day, our defence and security forces crushed Boko Haram," he said.

Niger's Defence Minister Mahamadou Karidjo said at the time that 109 Boko Haram fighters were killed in the fighting in Diffa, with four soldiers and one civilian losing their lives.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Nigerian troops have had some success against Boko Haram in recent days

Demonstrators in Niamey told the BBC they believed Niger's military could prevent Boko Haram gaining a foothold in the country.

"What worries us most is that they are killing our brothers, our sisters, our parents and friends," said one. "That's why we support our military 100% to fight them, to kill them."

Another warned the jihadist group: "Don't touch our country."

He added: "Boko Haram cannot be above a state, it's impossible. They have some showing in an area of the country, but they cannot beat our armed forces."

Boko Haram continued to attack targets within Nigeria over the weekend, overrunning the town of Askira in the country's north-eastern Borno state.

Residents said the militants first attacked Askira on Sunday, shooting at civilians and razing homes, before returning on Monday to occupy the town.

Boko Haram at a glance

Image copyright AFP
  • Founded in 2002, initially focused on opposing Western-style education - Boko Haram means "Western education is forbidden" in the Hausa language
  • Launched military operations in 2009 to create Islamic state
  • Thousands killed, mostly in north-eastern Nigeria - has also attacked police and UN headquarters in capital, Abuja
  • Has abducted hundreds, including at least 200 schoolgirls
  • Controls several north-eastern towns
  • Has launched attacks on Cameroon

Why is Boko Haram so strong?

Soldiers without weapons

Boko Haram has set fire to towns and villages in Nigeria, forcing millions of people to flee their homes, often on foot.

Nigerian authorities estimate that 3.2 million people have been displaced by the group, which has taken control of vast swathes of the country's north-east.

It is now increasingly targeting Niger, Cameroon and Chad after they joined Nigeria in a military coalition against it.

Details emerged on Monday of a US-backed military exercise led by Chad, involving 1,300 soldiers from 28 African and Western countries and designed to strengthen the region's ability to defend against Boko Haram's insurgency.

US military Brigadier General James Linder told Reuters news agency the US will provide communication technology allowing the African nations allied against the Islamists to better co-ordinate their efforts.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has been criticised for his handling of the crisis, and for the decision to postpone the country's elections six weeks to 28 March over security concerns.