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American citizen kidnapped in southern Niger, sources

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Armed men on motorbikes have kidnapped an American citizen from his home in southern Niger, according to security sources.

The incident happened in the early hours of Tuesday, in the rural village of Massalata in the department of Birni Nkonni, which sits on the Nigerian border.

The American man --named by his father-- as Philip Walton had been living there with his wife and child for two years.

“During the night six men, possibly Fulani, came on foot. They kidnapped my son Philip Walton. They were looking for money in the house but there was not enough. had only 20,000 CFA francs (30 euros). Following that, they left with him, " said his father, Bruce Walton, who lives in Birni Nkonni and has lived in Niger for almost 30 years.

He said the kidnappers were possibly Fulani and spoke Hausa.

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.

Niger, like much of the Sahel, is plagued by recurrent jihadist attacks that have killed hundreds, despite help from French and US forces there.

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).

Niger is also facing attacks from the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram on its south-eastern borders.

Westerners are also subject to frequent kidnappings by jihadist groups.

This month, French national Sophie Pétronin and two Italian hostages were released from being held hostage in Mali.

But several westerners are still being held hostage in the Sahel. Among them, the American humanitarian Jeffery Woodke was kidnapped in Niger in October 2016 in Abalak, about 200 km north of Birni Nkonni.

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.State (IS) group.

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