NIAMEY (Reuters) - Heavily armed gunmen riding motor bikes and other vehicles raided a village and killed five soldiers in Niger near the border with Mali early on Tuesday, the interior ministry said, amid signs of a growing Islamist insurgency in the region.
Dozens of attackers entered Banigabou, about 20 km (12 miles) from the frontier before dawn - gunshots rang out for two hours, said residents.
The ministry did not name the raiders, though Islamist militants based in Mali's desert north have been pushing south toward its capital and over borders in the fragile Sahel region into Niger and Burkina Faso.
"The toll is five dead, four injured in the national guard, two dead among the attackers and 26 people who had infiltrated the village arrested with arms and munitions," said the interior ministry statement.
Niger, an impoverished country on the fringes of the Sahara Desert, is also grappling with incursions from jihadist group Boko Haram on its southern border with Nigeria and a possible influx of Islamic State fighters across its northern border with Libya.
(Reporting by Boureima Balima; Writing and additional reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Andrew Heavens)