Niger: an American kidnapped by six armed men

An American was kidnapped in the night from Monday to Tuesday by “armed men” in southern Niger, in Massalata. This village near Birni Nkonni, 400 km east of Niamey, is near the border with Nigeria, an area where bandits and smugglers thrive.

It was the hostage’s father, Bruce Walton, who announced the circumstances of the kidnapping on local radio Niyya de Birni Nkonni. “During the night, six men, perhaps Fulani, came on foot. They kidnapped my son, Philip Walton. They were looking around the house for money, but there was not enough. There were only 20,000 CFA francs (30 euros). Following this, they left with him ”.

“All six men were armed,” said Bruce Walton, adding that they spoke Hausa with bits of English. Philip Walton had been living in Massalata with his wife and a child for two years, according to his father, who lives in Birni Nkonni and has lived in Niger for almost 30 years. Bruce Walton is described as a “missionary” by local authorities.

According to the prefect of the department of Birni Nkonni, Ibrahim Abba Lelé, the “six men were armed with Kalashnikovs” and left on “three motorcycles” towards Nigeria. A version confirmed by the village chief Ibrahim Dagual.

The Sahel, scene of kidnapping of Westerners

The Sahel is regularly the scene of kidnappings of Westerners by jihadist groups. At the beginning of October, in Mali, the French Sophie Pétronin and two Italian hostages were released, but several remain detained in the Sahel. Among them, the American humanitarian Jeffery Woodke, kidnapped in Niger in October 2016 in Abalak, about 200 km north of Birni Nkonni.

However, the area in which Philip Walton was kidnapped is far from the usual range of jihadist groups. It is an area of ​​contraband and active banditry, thanks to the porosity of the border between Niger and Nigeria.

In August, six French aid workers and two Nigeriens were murdered 60 km west of Niamey in the Kouré nature reserve, an attack claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group. The attack traumatized the entire foreign community in the country.

Niger, a very poor Sahelian country, is plagued by recurrent jihadist attacks which have left hundreds of people dead. With Mali and neighboring Burkina Faso, it is at the heart of a huge area scoured by jihadist groups claiming to be ISIS or its rival Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and where some 5,100 soldiers are deployed. French counterterrorism force Barkhane.

Niger is also facing attacks from the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram on its southeastern borders. In addition to deadly raids, Boko Haram is increasing the kidnappings of inhabitants, released for ransom.

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