Gunmen have kidnapped an Italian missionary in southwest Niger, the latest abduction of a foreign worker in the troubled Sahel country, his organisation said on Tuesday.
Pier Luigi Maccalli was seized on Monday night in Bamoanga, a village 125 kilometres (75 miles) from the capital Niamey, said a spokesman for the Catholic mission to Niger, Thomas Codjovi.
“The kidnapping happened at around 9pm,” Codjovi told AFP.
“According to local residents, about eight men arrived on motorbikes, broke into his house opposite the church and forced him to go with them… They returned 10 minutes later, firing into the air to frighten people.
“There were also nuns there, but he was the only one they wanted to kidnap.”
Maccalli, a priest, has lived in Niger for 11 years, said Codjovi.
The Society of African Missions (SMA) confirmed the abduction via the Mondo E Missione page on Facebook. It said it was “in round-the-clock contact” with a crisis cell at the Italian foreign ministry.
“There has been no claim by the kidnappers at present,” it said.
Niger, a large and poor country in West Africa, has become a target for recurring jihadist attacks from neighbouring Nigeria and especially in areas in the west that lie close to the border with Mali and Burkina Faso.
“The stretch to the north and west of Niamey are high-risk places,” former soldier turned security consultant Mohamed Ouagaya told AFP.
“It would really be suicide for Westerners to venture out there, no one can guarantee their security,” he said. “They need to go with a security escort …. and need to seek official protection.”
A German humanitarian worker was kidnapped in the same region of Tillaberi in April. In October 2016, an American aid worker was seized farther north. Security officials believe that they have been taken to northern Mali as hostages.
Niger is a predominantly Muslim country, where between one and two percent of the inhabitants are Christians in a population of about 20 million.
The Torodi region, where Maccalli was seized, has the largest concentration of Christians in the country.