NIAMEY, Niger (AP) — Boko Haram staged an overnight assault on a border town in Niger and a shell struck a market in the same town a few hours later, witnesses and the country's defense minister said Sunday, in a sign the extremists' offensive against the West African nation was intensifying.
The attack on the town of Diffa began Saturday night, and fighting between Boko Haram and Niger's army lasted until 5 a.m. toward the town's southern entrance before the extremists were forced to flee and calm was restored, Diffa resident Adam Boukar said.
It was the second time the town had come under attack by Boko Haram since Friday.
A few hours after the attack was repulsed, a shell fired by Boko Haram struck Diffa's pepper market, which attracts traders and customers from Nigeria and other countries in the region, Defense Minister Mahamadou Karijo told state media Sunday night. Karijo said one person was killed and at least six people were injured in the explosion.
No casualty figures were provided for the earlier attack on the town.
Niger's lawmakers are expected to vote Monday on a deployment of troops to fight Boko Haram, and Karijo called for "a large demonstration to support our army."
The minister's account of the market explosion differed from those of several Diffa residents, who earlier in the day said it was a suicide attack, a common tactic employed by Boko Haram at crowded markets and bus stations in Nigeria.
The fight against Boko Haram has taken on an increasingly regional dimension in recent months, with the extremists staging attacks in both Cameroon and Niger last week alone.
On Saturday, regional and African Union officials meeting in Cameroon's capital, Yaounde, unveiled a proposal for a force of as many as 8,750 members to combat Boko Haram, with manpower coming from Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin.
Officials said they envisioned deploying the force as early as next month, though funding issues could delay that timeline.
As the meeting was held, thousands of young people marched through the streets of Yaounde as part of a demonstration organized by Cameroon's National Youth Council to discourage collaboration with Boko Haram and to voice support for the military.