An Italian priest was kidnapped overnight in south Niger, near the border with Burkina Faso, a Nigerien government spokesman said on Tuesday, the second abduction of a European national in the West African country this year.
It was not immediately clear who was behind the kidnapping. The region has been struggling to defeat jihadist groups, including some affiliated with al Qaeda and Islamic State, which are active along Niger’s porous borders with both Mali and Burkina Faso.
“An Italian priest was kidnapped at the border,” spokesman Abdourahamane Zakaria said.
A villager and a member of the church also confirmed the kidnapping, which took place in the village of Bomanga, in the southern Makalondi district, about 125 km (78 miles) from Niger’s capital Niamey.
Villager El Bech Soroumpo told Reuters the priest, aged 57, was kidnapped together with a Burkinabe nun.
In April, a German humanitarian worker was abducted by men riding motorcycles near Niger’s western border with Mali, where Jihadist groups have carried out repeated attacks on military and civilian targets.
Western powers, including France and the United States, have deployed thousands of troops in the semi-arid Sahel region to combat what they see as a growing Islamist militant threat.
Last October, Islamic State’s affiliate in West Africa claimed responsibility for an attack in Niger near Mali that killed four U.S. special forces and at least four Nigerien soldiers.