Interior Minister Alkache Alhada says the attack took place in the villages of Tchombangou and Zaroumdareye, near the border with Mali.
Gunmen have killed dozens of civilians and wounded several more in attacks on two villages in western Niger, near the border with Mali, according to a senior official.
Interior Minister Alkache Alhada told the DPA news agency that the attacks on Saturday took place in the villages of Tchombangou and Zaroumdareye in the region of Mangaize.
At least 56 civilians were killed and 20 more wounded, he said, without specifying the exact toll in each village.
It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the assaults.
A local journalist told the AFP news agency that 50 people were killed in Tchombangou, while Reuters, citing security sources, said at least 49 were killed and 17 were wounded in the same village.
Another 30 were killed in Zaroumdareye, another security source told Reuters.
Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris, reporting from Niger’s capital Niamey, said, “The belief here is that the attackers came in across the border from Mali.
“That is one of the most porous areas of Niger. The border with Burkina Faso is also porous and has seen attacks from armed groups loyal to al-Qaeda and Islamic State (ISIL, ISIS). And on the border with Nigeria, we’ve seen increased activity with Boko Haram attacks targeting not only civilians, but also military personnel.”
The violence came on the same day Niger announced the results from the first round of a presidential election.
They showed former Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum of the governing Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism leading with 39 percent of the votes.
Bazoum will now face former President Mahamane Ousmane, who garnered 17 percent of the vote, in a runoff on February 20.
Ousmane was Niger’s first democratically elected president until he was deposed in a coup in 1996. Bazoum is an ally of outgoing President Mahamadou Issoufou, who is stepping down after two terms.
The area where Saturday’s attacks took place, Mangaize, is located in Tillaberi, a vast and unstable region where the borders of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso converge.
Fighters with links to al-Qaeda and the ISIL (ISIS) armed group have increasingly mounted attacks across West Africa’s Sahel region in recent years despite the presence of thousands of regional and foreign troops.
The violence has hit Mali and Burkina Faso the hardest, but has also spilled into western Niger. According to the United Nations, at least 4,000 people across the three nations died in violence linked to the armed groups in 2019.
On December 21, seven Nigerien soldiers were killed in an ambush in Tillaberi, while 34 villagers were massacred in the southeastern region of Diffa on the Nigerian border last month.
Al Jazeera and News agencies