(CNN) -- Niger security forces and military police arrested more than 600 people in an overnight raid aimed at dismantling gangs and stopping armed robberies in and around the capital, a government-run Web site said Wednesday.
The Monday-night raid in greater Niamey included 650 members of the security forces and military police, along with firefighters, according to the state-run news site Le Sahel. They targeted areas suspected to be havens for bandits, it said.
The 618 people arrested, who include 44 women, were detained but not charged, Le Sahel said. They will be released as soon as they are identified and any suspicion is lifted, the site said.
The operation took place in neighborhoods across Niamey where residents say severe food shortages and existing poverty have led to a spike in crime, the Agence France-Presse news agency reported.
The United Nations says Niger is in the midst of a "very severe food crisis."
The new U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Niger, Khardiata Lo N'Diaye, said Tuesday that more than half of the country's 15 million people are in a "very vulnerable situation."
"The main focus for the U.N. is to save lives in Niger (and to) help most of the people escape from this food security and malnutrition issue, which is really damaging the human development capital for the country and can compromise the chance for future development," Lo N'Diaye told a briefing at U.N. headquarters in New York.