American citizen abducted in Niger rescued in U.S. military operation

Photo showing hands of a person tied with a chain in prison. (Stock photo/Getty Images)

An American citizen who was kidnapped by gunmen in southern Niger has been released following an operation by the U.S. military.

Philip Walton, described as the son of a missionary living in Niger, was abducted on Monday by a group of armed men on the outskirts of Massalata, a village about 10 kilometres (six miles) from the border with Nigeria.

The kidnappers then demanded a ransom from the 27-year-old’s father.

The U.S. Department of Defense said the operation was carried out on Saturday in northern Nigeria.

“This American citizen is safe and is now in the care of the U.S. Department of State. No U.S military personnel were injured during the operation,” the U.S. Department of Defense said in a statement.

“We appreciate the support of our international partners in conducting this operation.”

Walton’s kidnapping came two months after Islamic State fighters killed seven aid workers and their local guide in an ambush at a giraffe sanctuary near Niamey.

Niger is among a group of countries in the Sahel region which have been plagued by deadly ethnic and jihadist violence in recent years. Regional and French security forces have launched operations against extremists in an attempt to end the instability.

The U.S. military has also offered assistance to Niger’s security forces in the fight to restore peace and stability in the country and region.

Neighbouring Nigeria, where the rescue mission took place, is also struggling to tackle the Boko Haram insurgency and other criminal activities such as banditry and kidnappings, particularly in the northern and central regions.