An American citizen has been kidnapped by gunmen in southern Niger, a senior official told AFP on Tuesday.
The American, described as the son of a missionary living in Niger, was abducted by six men armed with Kalashnikovs on the outskirts of Massalata, a village about 10 kilometres (six miles) from the border with Nigeria, said the prefect of the Birni Nkonni department, Ibrahim Abba Lele.
They left on three motorcycles, heading for the border, he said, an account confirmed by the village chief, Ibrahim Dagual.
A man named Bruce Walton told local radio station Niyya that his son Philip Walton had been kidnapped from his home overnight by armed men.
“During the night six men, possibly Fulani, came on foot,” he said, referring to a nomadic ethnic group also known as Peuls.
“They were looking for money in the house but there was not enough. There were only 20,000 CFA francs ($35, 30 euros). After that, they left with him,” he said.
“All six men were armed,” Walton said, adding that they spoke in Hausa with a few words of English.
Philip Walton had been living in Massalata with his wife and a child for two years, according to his father, who himself lives in Birni Nkonni and has been in Niger for nearly 30 years.
The US State Department said it was aware of an American citizen abducted in Niger.
“We are providing their family all possible consular assistance,” it said.
Niger lies in the heart of the vast and impoverished Sahel, which is struggling with a jihadist insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives and driven hundreds of thousands from their homes.
Several Westerners are currently hostage in the region.
They include American aid worker Jeffery Woodke, who was kidnapped in the central town of Abalak in October 2016 and is believed to have been taken to neighbouring Mali.
Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou said in September last year that he had information that Woodke was alive and in good health.
Three Europeans, including 75-year-old French charity worker Sophie Petronin, were released by their captors in Mali earlier this month under a prisoner swap arranged by the Malian government.
In August, six French aid workers and two Niger citizens were killed in the Koure wildlife reserve west of Niamey, in an attack claimed by the so-called Islamic State group.
Criminal gangs and cattle thieves often kidnap for ransom, and young Fulani herders make up many of the marauding gangs in northern Nigeria and other West African countries.
Niger also faces attacks by the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram on its southeastern borders.
In addition to deadly raids, Boko Haram has increasingly carried out cross-border ransom kidnappings.