French uranium mine hit in car bomb attacks in Niger

NIAMEY, Niger (AP) - Attackers in Niger detonated two car bombs at dawn on Thursday, one in the city of Agadez where a military barracks was targeted and one in Arlit where a French company operates a uranium mine, injuring more than a dozen people.

Paris-based nuclear giant Areva said that 13 employees were hurt in the attack in Arlit, in the northern part of Niger where in 2010, Al Qaeda's branch in Africa kidnapped five French citizens working for the mining company.

Witnesses said the vehicle carrying the explosives in Agadez blew up in front of a military barracks.

"We heard a strong detonation that woke the whole neighborhood, it was so powerful," said Abdoulaye Harouna, a resident of Agadez. "The whole town is now surrounded by soldiers looking for the attackers."

In 2010, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb kidnapped seven foreigners, including five French nationals, from a residential compound near Arlit. They worked for Areva or contracting companies.

In February 2011, three of the hostages - including one Frenchwoman - were freed. The cell is still holding the other four and has repeatedly threatened to kill them in retaliation for the French-led assault in Mali.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for Thursday's attack, but because Niger shares a border with the troubled nation of Mali, whose north was occupied for nearly a year by a trio of Al Qaeda-linked groups, residents and government officials assume that the attackers are Islamic extremists, possibly from the Movement of Oneness and Jihad in West Africa which has led repeated suicide attacks in Mali.

The militants vowed to hit any country that helped France, which launched a military offensive in Mali on Jan 11 to flush out the jihadists.

Niger, like most of Mali's neighbors, has sent battalions of soldiers to try to stabilise Mali.

If the attack was carried out by one of the Mali-based groups, it would be the single largest attack that they have carried out both in terms of casualties and due to the simultaneous nature of the explosions.

In recent weeks, they attempted to carry out a similar style of assault, with kamikaze fighters detonating themselves in the Malian towns of Gossi and Menaka, but the attackers killed only themselves.