Six gunmen with AK-47s drove motorbikes into a rural village in Southern Niger, where they allegedly kidnapped an American citizen early Tuesday morning.
Philip Walton was snatched from a “garden on the outskirts of Massalata,” a village 250 miles east of the capital Niamey, around 1:45 a.m. local time, said prefect of the Birni Nkonni department, Ibrahim Abba Lele. The 27-year-old does not work for the U.S. government or any U.S.-linked organisation, but had been living in the region for several years, according to Reuters.
No group has yet taken responsibility for the kidnapping, but they have demanded ransom from Walton’s father. He lives about half a mile away from where his son raises sheep, camel and poultry near the border with Nigeria.
A police source told Reuters Walton’s daughter and wife were left behind by the kidnappers.
A spokesperson for the U.S. state department confirmed it is aware that an American citizen was abducted in Niger and is providing support to the family as well as working with local authorities to carry out search efforts.
The early-morning kidnapping on Tuesday marks the seventh foreign hostage believed to be held by extremist groups in Niger. It also comes two months after Islamic State-linked militants killed six French aid workers and their Niger guide while they were visiting a wildlife park east of the capital.
Niger has faced a growing number of attacks by extremists linked to both the Islamic State and to al-Qaida, with groups kidnapping westerners in the Sahel region to “advance their goals, whether for ransom, for the spotlight, or to amp up the pressure on local and international governments,” said Laith Alkhouri, a counterterrorism specialist at CTI-ME, an intelligence advisory group based in Dubai.
“Militant factions will continue to resort to kidnappings as it has proven advantageous for their operations in West Africa.”
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