Niger’s ousted President Mohamed Bazoum, who has been under house arrest since his overthrow in a coup in July, attempted to escape on Thursday, according to the country’s new leaders.
Bazoum tried to flee with “his family, two cooks, and two security elements” at around 2:00 GMT in the morning, but the plan was thwarted, the Nigerien Ministry of Defense said in a statement.
The group intended to drive a vehicle to a hideout in the Tchangarey district on the outskirts of the capital of Niamey and then fly to neighboring Nigeria on two helicopters “belonging to a foreign power,” the authorities claimed.
“The prompt reaction of the Defense and Security Forces (FDS) made it possible to foil this plan to destabilize our country,” the ministry said, calling the alleged scheme an “irresponsible attitude of the deposed President and his accomplices.”
“The main perpetrators and some of their accomplices have been arrested. The public prosecutor has taken over the case and has already opened an investigation. The situation is under control,” it added.
Nigerien soldiers removed the pro-Western Bazoum from power on July 26 amid rising insecurity caused by Islamist insurgencies, which the coup leaders claimed the civilian government had failed to contain despite foreign military backing. Bazoum, who has refused to officially resign as president, has been in detention since, despite regional and international pressure on the military rulers to release him and restore his rule.
The new authorities have previously accused France of plotting an armed intervention to free Bazoum, a claim the French government has denied, although it has repeatedly stated that it would support such an action by the West African regional bloc ECOWAS.
Last week, France, which had around 1,500 troops in Niger and had been conducting operations against jihadist insurgencies in the Sahel region, began withdrawing its soldiers at the demand of the newly installed military government.
The departure of French troops is expected to be completed by the end of the year, according to Paris, whose envoy to Niamey has also been expelled.
Meanwhile, the United States, which has several military bases in the former French colony, including at least two drone stations to support counter-terrorism missions in the Sahel, only declared the military takeover a “coup d’état” last week and halted aid to the country.