US missionary is abducted ‘from a garden’ by kidnappers in a Niger village
- The American was kidnapped near the prefect of Birnin Konni in southern Niger
- Details were not immediately clear with no one claiming responsibility
- Niger is grappling with security crisis as terrorist-linked groups carry out attacks
An American citizen was kidnapped near the town of Birnin Konni in southern Niger in the early hours of Tuesday morning, three security sources and a local official told Reuters.
The full details of the kidnapping were not immediately clear, and no one had claimed responsibility on Tuesday morning.
The missionary, who had been living in the region ‘for several years’, was reportedly abducted ‘in a garden on the outskirts of Massalata,’ the prefect of the Birni Nkonni department Ibrahim Abba Lele said, adding there were no immediate further details.
The village – near Birnin Konni – is 400 kilometres (250 miles) east of the country’s capital Niamey.
Niger, like much of West Africa’s Sahel region, is struggling with a deepening security crisis as groups with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State carry out attacks on the army and civilians, despite help from French and U.S. forces.
Birnin Konni is a few hundred miles to the east of that region, near the border with Nigeria.
Pictured: Soldiers in Niger’s Army drive down a road, ready for battle with Boko Haram – the Islamic State in West Africa. Niger is struggling with a security crisis as groups with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State carry out an increasing number of attacks (file photo)
Four U.S. soldiers were killed in an ambush there in 2017, sparking a national debate about America’s role fighting Islamists in the sparsely populated West African desert that is home to some of the world’s poorest countries.
Attacks in Niger, like the one on the U.S. forces, have generally been restricted to a western zone bordering Mali and Burkina Faso, but there have been signs of encroachment this year.
In August, gunmen on motorcycles killed six French aid workers, a Nigerian guide and a driver in a giraffe reserve just 65 km (40 miles) from the capital Niamey.
Birnin Konni, where the sources say the U.S. citizen was taken around 0100 local time (midnight GMT), is a few hundred miles to the east of that region. It is also hundreds of miles from a region of south east Niger that has come under attack from Boko Haram militants based in Nigeria.
Kidnappings in the region are infrequent but not rare. At least six foreign hostages are being held by Islamist insurgents in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.
Two of these were taken in Niger, including U.S. aid worker Jeffery Woodke, who has been missing since October 2016, and Joerg Lange, a German aid worker who was taken in April 2018 from a town near the Malian border.
The increasing number of attacks in Niger and other West African countries come despite help from French and U.S. forces. Pictured: A US army instructor walks next to Malian soldiers during an anti-terrorism exercise at the Kamboinse in 2018 (file photo)
The local reports come the after gunmen in Niger’s southern neighbor – Nigeria – kidnapped at least 52 people, including a local chief, in a northwestern village, residents said on Monday.
More than 8,000 people have died in the region since 2011, and over 200,000 displaced, some into neighbouring Niger, according to the International Crisis Group.
While police said that the raid resulted in the capture of five people, including the village chief, three residents of Lingyado in the Zamfara state maintained that 52 people were seized on Sunday.
The sources gave their names as Rabe, Bube and Lawwali, but declined to disclose their identities further, citing fears of potential reprisals.
They told AFP news agency that a gang of motorcycle-riding assailants attacked Lingyado in the Maru district of Zamfara, firing in the air to scare people.
Northwest Nigeria – that borders Niger – suffers from a chronic, deadly conflict involving armed groups, criminal gangs and jihadists.
‘The bandits took away 52 people from our village yesterday. Our district head was among them. Most taken were men, and a few boys,’ said the resident who asked to be identified as Rabe.
‘They came on motorcycles, three riding on each, and encircled the village before shooting continuously into the air.
‘People were frightened and some ran out of their homes to flee, only to fall into the trap of the bandits and get kidnapped,’ Rabe said.
A second resident, who asked not to be identified, said: ‘We conducted a headcount and found that 52 people were kidnapped.’
Nevertheless, local police put the number of people kidnapped at only five, including the local chief, and said a rescue operation was underway.
‘The police search and rescue team in collaboration with the military are in a nearby forest… to rescue the district head and the four other kidnapped victims along with him,’ Zamfara state police spokesman Mohammed Shehu said.
Criminal gangs and cattle thieves often kidnap for ransom, prompting many residents to relocate to safer locations.
On Thursday, the United States condemned what it called excessive use of force by the Nigerian military amid civil unrest in the country, with the United States called for an investigation into accusations that Nigeria police fired on protesters.
Protesters run away on Wednesday as police officers use teargas to disperse people demonstrating against police brutality in Lagos after imposing a 24-hour curfew
‘We welcome an immediate investigation into any use of excessive force by members of the security forces,’ Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. ‘Those involved should be held to account in accordance with Nigerian law,’ he added.
Tensions came to a head on October 20 when security forces launched a brutal crackdown on protesters that drew international condemnation.
At least 12 people were killed by the Nigerian army and police, according to Amnesty International, while President Buhari has faced fierce criticizm.
The Nigerian army meanwhile have dismissed reports that soldiers opened fire on protesters as ‘fake news.’
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