An American aid worker from the non-governmental organization “JEMED” has reportedly been kidnapped in the Tahoua region of Niger, close to the border of Mali, local sources told French news outlet RFI. The kidnapping occurred in the same region of Niger as last week’s attack on a Malian refugee camp.
An American citizen was kidnapped in Abalak, in the region of Tahoua in north-central Niger, according to RFI information. [The citizen] works on behalf of the American NGO YWAM (Youth with a Mission). The [bodyguard] of the American aid worker and a Nigerien national guard were killed during the kidnapping. [According to] Nigerien government sources, the kidnappers would then headed north to Tchintabaraden and, further, to the Malian border.
France24 has further confirmed that the kidnappers retreated towards the Malian borders. While it was initially reported that the NGO was YWAM, it is now confirmed it is JEMED and the American had been living in Niger since the 1990’s.
No group has claimed the kidnapping, but al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has been behind several kidnappings of Westerners in Niger in the past and is a suspect in today’s incident. In 2008, two Canadian diplomats were taken by the group in Niger and later released after a ransom was paid. A year later, AQIM attempted to kidnap US embassy employees in Tahoua. In 2010, a French citizen named Michel Germaneau was kidnapped in northern Niger. Germaneua would later be transported to northern Mali and killed by AQIM after a failed French raid to rescue him.
The same year, two other French nationals working near Arlit, Niger, were taken by AQIM. In 2011, two more French nationals were taken, but were killed in a subsequent French rescue raid. AQIM has taken other hostages this year, but from neighboring Burkina Faso and Mali. In January, AQIM captured an Australian couple in northern Burkina Faso. The group would later release the woman, but her husband remains in captivity. In Timbuktu, Beatrice Stockly, who was previously kidnapped in 2012, was taken again earlier this year.
Additionally, Al Murabitoon, which is now part of AQIM, kidnapped a Romanian national in Tambao, Burkina Faso, last spring. However, the Romanian man was taken by a faction of Murabitoon led by Abu Walid al Sahrawi, who has declared his allegiance to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi of the Islamic State. This faction, known as the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) is still thought to be holding him. ISGS could potentially be another suspect in today’s kidnapping. (See this map made by The Long War Journal for more information.)
Today’s kidnapping in Niger happened in the same general region as last week’s attack on a Malian refugee camp. No group has claimed that attack, but jihadists are suspected. Nigerien authorities have blamed a Malian Tuareg separatist group for the attack, but the group has denied any involvement.
Article updated with new reporting on the correct NGO.