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US missionary kidnapped in southern Niger

·2-min read

An American citizen has been kidnapped in a village in southern Niger close to the border with Nigeria. No group has claimed responsibility so far.

Philip Walton had been living and working as a missionary in the area of Massalata for a year.

He was abducted by six armed men in the early hours of Tuesday morning, according to the governor of the region of Tahoua, Abdourahamane Moussa.

The assailants, armed with AK-47s, arrived on foot and entered his garden on the outskirts of Massalata, a village 400 kilometres east of the capital Niamey.

The village chief told RFI that the gunmen asked for money. When the American missionary said he had only 20,000 CFA (30 euros) on him they abducted him and headed off in the direction of the border with Nigeria, less than a kilometre away.

There were no immediate further details about his disappearance, and no one had claimed responsibility on Tuesday morning.

Local police found the other members of Walton's family: his brother, wife and their daughter in the garden, safe, but traumatised.

Jihadi threat

Niger, like much of West Africa's Sahel region, is struggling with a security crisis as groups with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State armed group carry out attacks on the army and civilians, particularly in the western region bordering Mali and Burkina Faso.

The jihadist insurgency has claimed thousands of lives and driven hundreds of thousands from their homes.

In August, gunmen on motorcycles killed six French aid workers, a Nigerian guide and a driver in a giraffe reserve just 65 km from the capital Niamey.

Several westerners are currently being held hostage in the region.

They include American aid worker Jeffery Woodke, who was kidnapped in the central town of Abalak in October 2016 and is believed to have been taken to neighbouring Mali.

The president of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou, said in September last year that he had information that Woodke was alive and in good health.

Three Europeans, including 75-year-old French NGO worker Sophie Petronin, were released by their captors in Mali earlier this month under a prisoner swap arranged by the Malian government.

In October 2017 an American Special Forces team was ambushed by a contingent of Islamic State affiliated fighters in Niger. Four American soldiers were killed and two wounded.

(With AFP)