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Defense official: Shooting breaks out near paramilitary base in Niger; gunmen not known

Shooting erupted late Tuesday near a college for Niger's paramilitary police in a suburb of the capital, the minister of defense said. Nearby residents who were contacted by telephone said they were hunkered down, and a battle appeared to be in progress.

"I can confirm that there is shooting near the Ecole de la Gendarmerie," said Minister of Defense Karidjo Mahamadou, referring to the college on the outskirts of Niamey. He declined to give further details, saying, "No, we do not know who the gunmen are."

Niger is still reeling from back-to-back terrorist attacks in the past month, including the largest in its history on May 23, when suicide bombers aligned with al-Qaida attacked a military base and a French-run uranium mine, killing three dozen people. On June 1, suspected jihadists attacked the prison in Niamey in a jail break that freed 22 prisoners. Those freed included a member of al-Qaida's North African branch, whose alleged crimes included killing a U.S. serviceman.

Abdou Sadi, whose house is not far from the college, said the shooting Tuesday was still going on at around 11 p.m. local time. "The camp where they train the gendarmes recruits seems to have been attacked," he said. "We can hear shots ringing out throughout our neighborhood. It appears that the combat is still happening."

Niger, one of the world's poorest nations, is in the crosshairs of the al-Qaida-linked groups which until recently were based in Mali. French President Francois Hollande unilaterally authorized a military intervention in Mali in January, after that country's president asked for help to stave off an advance by the al-Qaida fighters. French troops have since been joined by African forces from most of Mali's neighbors, including Niger, which sent a battalion of several hundred.

The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, one of the groups that claimed responsibility for the May 23 attack, had warned that any African country that sends soldiers to Mali will pay the consequences.

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Callimachi contributed to this report from Dakar, Senegal.