By CONOR FINNEGAN, AICHA EL HAMMAR CASTANO and MORGAN WINSOR, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — A U.S. citizen living in Niger has been kidnapped, a Nigerien Ministry of Defense source told ABC News.
Philip Walton, 27, was kidnapped from his backyard in the West African nation after his assailants asked him for money but he only offered $40, according to the source. Walton lives with his wife and young daughter on a farm near Massalata, a small village in southern Niger near the country’s border with Nigeria.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State confirmed to ABC News that an American citizen has been abducted in Niger and that the U.S. government is “providing their family all possible consular assistance.” The spokesperson declined to comment further on the case, citing “privacy considerations,” but added, “When a U.S. citizen is missing, we work closely with local authorities as they carry out their search efforts, and we share information with families however we can.”
The Nigerien Ministry of Defense source told ABC News that the kidnappers are believed to be an armed group from neighboring Nigeria but, for now, the incident isn’t considered terror-related.
Niger, which is three times the size of California and home to some 22 million people, is one of many nations in Africa’s Sahel region that is plagued by terrorism and instability. But the Nigerien military has been a close partner to the United States in the fight against regional jihadist groups, including affiliates of both al Qaeda and ISIS.
Last week, a United Nations-backed donor summit raised $1.7 billion to support governments in the Central Sahel region as U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that a fast-growing humanitarian crisis created by a combination of conflict, climatic changes and poverty is at a “breaking point,” with 13.4 million people in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger who are in need of assistance and protection this year to survive.
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