NIAMEY (Reuters) - Boko Haram militants killed seven soldiers and injured others in military barracks in southeastern Niger and stole weapons, the Nigeria-based radical group said in a statement on Friday, according to SITE Intelligence Group.
Before the statement was issued, military sources had said that militants from Boko Haram attacked a town in Niger while a delegation of ministers were visiting, killing seven gendarmes and wounding 12 in a gun battle. They said none of the ministers had been hurt.
The attack happened on Thursday in a region that hosts refugees and internally displaced people who have been forced from their homes by the Islamist insurgents, officials said.
Boko Haram said in the statement that "a detachment from the soldiers of the Caliphate carried out an attack on military barracks of the Nigerien apostate army in the town of Ghafam in the area of Diffa ... A quantity of weapons and various ammunition was taken as spoils."
Neighboring Chad has sent troops to help Niger in a planned counterattack against Boko Haram after the militants seized the southern Niger town of Bosso in an attack that killed 26 soldiers.
Niger's government has called on former colonial power France, which already has 3,500 troops spread across five countries in West Africa, to strengthen military operations against the Nigeria-based Boko Haram and other militants.
Niger's defense minister, Hassoumi Messaoudou, told Radio France International on Friday that regional leaders needed to "rethink Boko Haram" and called on regional forces to defeat the group in Nigeria.
"We thought they were reduced to making suicide attacks," he said. "Now they have rebuilt their military forces. We are dealing with an army."
(Reporting by Boureima Balima; Additional reporting by Marine Pennetier in Dakar; Writing by Makini Brice; Editing by Robin Pomeroy, Toni Reinhold)