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U.S. missionary kidnapped in Niger

Jeffrey Woodke is the first American kidnapped from the Western Africa country


Tuareg Malian soldiers patrol the streets of Gao, northern Mali. Associated Press/Photo by Jerome Delay

U.S. missionary kidnapped in Niger

Gunmen kidnapped an American missionary from his home in central Niger over the weekend and killed two other people. The incident is the first reported kidnapping of an American in the region.

On Friday night, the attackers stormed into Jeffery Woodke’s home in the town of Abalak, killing his guard and housekeeper, Niger’s interior ministry said in a statement on Saturday. The armed men, driving a white Toyota Hilux pickup truck, took Woodke and headed across the desert toward Mali.

“Our forces are on their trail,” Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum said. “The president of the republic is personally following the situation and our forces are fully mobilized to capture them and put an end to this disastrous affair.”

Woodke, a 55-year-old native of McKinleyville, Calif., has lived in Niger since 1992. He worked with JEMED, a local partner of U.S. non-profit Youth With A Mission (YWAM). The Nigerian charity group helps Tuareg herdsmen who are battling disease, drought, and lack of education.

Woodke served as an instructor at The Redwood Coast School of Missions, a ministry run by the Arcata First Baptist Church in Arcata, Calif. His biography on the mission’s website describes him as having a “passion in providing humanitarian aid to those who are among the poorest in the world, coupled with his desire to see God’s kingdom advanced in a largely Muslim world.”

The Sahel region faces attacks from al-Qaeda-affiliated extremist groups, Nigerian-based extremists Boko Haram, and other criminal gangs. Armed attackers have targeted and kidnapped Europeans, demanding huge sums of money in ransom. An Australian doctor kidnapped in February in Burkina Faso and a Swiss woman kidnapped in Mali both remain in captivity. Woodke’s kidnapping is the first of any American in Niger. In 2009, suspected extremists attempted to kidnap U.S. embassy personnel from a hotel in the town of Tahoua.

“We are aware of reports of the kidnapping of a U.S. citizen in Niger,” a State Department official said after the Friday abduction. “The U.S. Department of State has no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas.”


Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD’s Africa reporter and deputy global desk chief. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University–Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria.

@onize_ohiks


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