Niger Republic Fear Contagion From Nigeria's Boko Haram Islamists

A proverb in the Hausa language, spoken on both sides of the border between Niger and Nigeria, warns: "When your neighbor's beard is on fire, fetch water and soak your own."
With conflict in Nigeria's north between the army and the Islamist militants of Boko Haram killing hundreds every month, many in southern Niger fear not enough is being done to stop it spreading.

To the north, Niger is at the heart of international efforts to tackle Islamist groups in the Sahara, following a French-led offensive last year against al Qaeda-linked militants who occupied neighboring northern Mali.

In the south, though, the potential spillover from Nigeria's Islamist uprising has attracted far less attention, despite 40,000 refugees flooding across the border into Niger.

Yet a growing number of incidents, including foiled kidnapping of officials, the seizure of arms and arrests of militants, suggest Boko Haram increasingly sees Niger's remote southeast not just as a rear base but as a potential target.

With oil-rich regional heavyweight Nigeria failing to quell the uprising, many fear that impoverished Niger would struggle to contain a serious attack.

"Of all the towns in Niger threatened by terrorism, we are on the frontline," said Inoussa Saouna, central government representative in Diffa, a regional capital lying on the eastern end of the 1,500 km (940 mile) border with Nigeria.

A dusty market town of 50,000 people, Diffa sits just 170 km north of Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria's northeastern Borno state which has borne the brunt of Boko Haram's bloody campaign to impose sharia law in Africa's most populous nation.

Residents in Diffa say they are worried about infiltration by Boko Haram within the town and don't call the Nigerian group by its name to avoid drawing attention when they speak of it. Instead, they refer to its members as "Yayani", which means "my brother" in a local language, Kanouri.

"On the Nigerian side, there's virtually no state," Saouna said, warning the focus on battling Islamists in the Sahara was leaving Niger's southern flank exposed. "The day it explodes in Diffa, it'll be more serious for us than in the north."
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