Niger’s military rulers said they had foiled an attempt by Mohamed Bazoum, the former president they ousted in a coup in July, to escape their custody on Thursday.
“At around three in the morning, the ousted president Mohamed Bazoum and his family, his two cooks and two security elements, tried to escape from his place of detention,” the regime’s spokesman Amadou Abdramane said on state television.
The escape bid failed and “the main actors and some of the accomplices” were arrested, he added in the broadcast late Thursday.
An investigation has also been launched.
The escape plan had involved Bazoum at first getting to a hideout on the outskirts of the capital Niamey, said Abdramane.
They had then planned to fly out on helicopters “belonging to a foreign power” towards Nigeria, he added, denouncing Bazoum’s “irresponsible attitude”.
Since he was toppled by the military on July 26, Bazoum has refused to resign. Until now, he had been held at his residence in the heart of the presidential palace along with his wife Haziza and son Salem.
Abdramane did not say where they were being held now.
In September, Bazoum’s lawyers said he filed a legal case with a court of the Economic Community of West African States against those who deposed him.
They also said they were taking his case to the UN Human Rights Council.
The army officers who overthrew Bazoum cited as justification the deteriorating security situation in the country because of jihadist attacks.
Niger is battling two jihadist insurgencies: a spillover in its southeast from a long-running conflict in neighbouring Nigeria; and an offensive in the west by militants crossing from Mali and Burkina Faso.
At the start of the month, Niger held three days of national mourning after 29 soldiers were killed in a suspected jihadist attack, the deadliest since the military took power in July.
On Thursday, the first group of French soldiers, ordered out of Niger by its post-coup military rulers, arrived by road in N’Djamena, the capital of neighbouring Chad.
The convoy “has arrived without any particular problems” in N’Djamena after 10 days on the road and in coordination with Nigerien forces, army spokesman Pierre Gaudilliere told AFP.
The troops will depart by air from Chad to France, with the pullout expected to be completed by the end of December.
Roughly 1,400 soldiers were based in the capital Niamey and western Niger to battle fighters linked to the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda, bringing with them fighter jets, drones, helicopters and armoured vehicles, as well as the equipment to support them.
France has supported ousted President Bazoum since the coup and is calling for his release, as are several other countries and organisations. But the military regime remains inflexible for now.
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