Authorities in Niger said Tuesday, October 27, that an American national was kidnapped overnight from Monday to Tuesday in the south of the country, 400 kilometers east of Niamey and near the border with the Nigeria. “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). After that, they left with him, ”his father, Bruce Walton, told local radio station Niyya de Birni Nkonni.
“The six men were armed,” said Bruce Walton, who said 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. Her father, Bruce, 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.
A spokesperson for the US State Department in Washington confirmed that an “American citizen had been abducted in Niger”, stressing that the United States “was working closely with local authorities while they carried out their research.” The Americans have two drone bases in Agadez and Dirkou, in northern Niger. Their planes fly over the Sahel permanently and are an important support to the French anti-jihadist force Barkhane.
Recurrent jihadist attacks
Another American, Jeffery Woodke, a humanitarian kidnapped in October 2016 in Abalak in Niger, and no doubt then taken to Mali, is still in the hands of his captors. President of Niger Mahamadou Issoufou assured in September 2019 that Jeffery Woodke was alive and in good health.
Several Western hostages remain detained in the Sahel, after the release in early October in Mali of Frenchwoman Sophie Pétronin and two Italian hostages. In August, six French aid workers and two Nigeriens were assassinated 60 kilometers from Niamey in a nature reserve, an attack claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group. 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 by the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram on its south-eastern borders. In addition to deadly raids, Boko Haram is increasing the kidnappings of inhabitants, released for ransom.