Niger says Italian priest kidnapped near Burkina Faso border

iStock [www.istockphoto.com]

An Italian priest has been kidnapped in a part of Niger where a number of extremist groups are active, the West African nation said on Tuesday.

Government spokesperson Zakaria Abdourahmane said authorities had not been aware the priest was in the country's southwest near the Burkina Faso border. He said investigations have begun to find the attackers and free the priest.

The Reverend Pierluigi Maccalli is a member of the Society of African Missions religious order. In Niger he had promoted initiatives to encourage an end to the cultural practice of female genital mutilation, which sparked some local opposition to him, according to the Fides missionary news agency in Rome.

The Italian foreign ministry said it had asked Nigerien authorities to give "absolute priority" to resolving the kidnapping but asked that they avoid "any initiative that could put Father Maccalli at risk."

"As far as we know an armed group entered in his apartment, taking several objects, including his computer. It seems that they took the mission's car and then they kidnapped the missionary," said the agency's Africa desk editor Luca Mainoldi.

Reports indicate the priest may have been taken to Burkina Faso, Mainoldi said. "If these people later found shelter in Burkina Faso this means that they are a transnational group of jihadist kind that operates between Niger, Burkina Faso and maybe Mali too."

Burkina Faso's border with Niger and Mali is home to extremists who kidnap and kill officials, sometimes in connection with other Islamic extremist groups in West Africa's vast Sahel region. Attacks have risen in the past year as young men frustrated by poverty become radicalised.

Niger for years has fought extremist groups linked to both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State organisation. Recently it has experienced a rise in kidnappings with ransom demands.

Earlier this month in the Diffa region, a 70-year-old woman who was the mother of a national deputy was abducted by armed men on motorcycles. The kidnappers demanded a ransom of $35 000 but she was eventually released.

"We did not pay ransom, the kidnappers brought her back," said her son, Boulou Boukar.

Other abductions have been reported in the Maradi Region, which neighbours Nigeria's Zamfara state. A mixed patrol of Nigerien and Nigerian military has been set up for weeks along the border, according to Maradi governor Zakari Oumarou.

Nigeria's Defence Minister Mansur Mohammed Dan Ali has been in Niger for two days discussing with President Mahamadou Issoufou the insecurity along Niger's southern border with Nigeria, where Boko Haram is present.

"Our two heads of state have the same vision and we will continue to pool our resources in order to fight the resilience of Boko Haram," Ali said. 

* Sign up to News24's top Africa news in your inbox: SUBSCRIBE TO THE HELLO AFRICA NEWSLETTER

FOLLOW News24 Africa on Twitter and Facebook

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Lockdown For
DAYS
HRS
MINS
Voting Booth
When a Covid-19 vaccine for under 16's becomes available, will you be taking your children to get it?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Yes, immediately!
37% - 2644 votes
I'll wait to see how others respond
26% - 1860 votes
No, I don't think they need it
37% - 2612 votes
Vote
ZAR/USD
15.03
(+0.01)
ZAR/GBP
20.99
(+0.07)
ZAR/EUR
18.16
(+0.11)
ZAR/AUD
11.66
(-0.05)
ZAR/JPY
0.14
(+0.08)
Gold
1754.33
(+0.92)
Silver
26.92
(+0.60)
Platinum
1220.00
(+2.08)
Brent Crude
64.95
(0.00)
Palladium
2352.50
(+0.47)
All Share
67207.72
(+1.62)
Top 40
61792.34
(+1.71)
Financial 15
12281.37
(+0.67)
Industrial 25
87774.75
(+1.89)
Resource 10
68676.50
(+1.80)
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes morningstar logo