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Page last updated at 22:55 GMT, Monday, 28 December 2009

Three Saudi tourists killed in Niger attack - officials

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Three Saudi tourists have been killed and three others injured after they were attacked by unidentified gunmen in Niger, officials there say.

The Saudis were travelling by car to Mali and were attacked near the border, according to a government spokesman.

The three Saudis who were wounded were taken to hospital in the capital, Niamey, he said.

The attack was reported near Djambala, where both Tuareg rebels and militants linked to al-Qaeda are active.

Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled bin Saud told Al-Arabiya TV that the tourists were assaulted after they stopped to perform morning prayers.

He said that though al-Qaeda was present in the area, there was no proof the group was involved.

"It appears to us so far that it was a robbery," he said.

Mauritania claim

Niger's Communication Minister Kassoum Moctar condemned the attack on state radio.

"Niger's government deplores these barbarous acts that were unfortunately perpetrated on its territory, and offers its condolences to the Saudi government," he said.

Mr Moctar was also quoted as saying that police had found two Malians who had been escorting the Saudis with their hands tied behind their backs in a nearby village.

Police and army forces had been deployed to hunt for the assailants, he said.

Last December, a Canadian UN envoy to Niger and his aide were kidnapped north-west of Niamey, also near the border with Mali.

The kidnapping was claimed by al-Qaeda's North African wing, al-Qaeda in the Land of the Islamic Maghreb, though Niger's president blamed it on Tuareg rebels.

On Monday, the al-Qaeda branch - which is based in Algeria but has been active in the north-west African Sahel region - also claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of two Italians in Mauritania earlier this month.

Italy said the claim was "plausible".



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