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German aid worker kidnapped by armed men in western Niger on Wednesday was taken north, sources told AFP, one of whom said he was believed to be in neighbouring Mali.
Joerg Lange, employed by the aid group Help, was abducted in the Ayorou area of Tillaberi, an unstable border region abutting northern Mali.
A security source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Thursday the kidnappers have “already taken him to northern Mali”.
They are “probably subcontractors for terrorist groups,” he said.
The kidnapping has thrown the spotlight on the volatile swathe of northern Africa known as the Sahel, where poor semi-desert countries are fighting jihadist insurgents and criminal gangs.
The prefect of Ayorou, Jando Rhichi Algaher, told AFP on Wednesday that investigators found Lange had been taken “to the north” of his administrative area, close to Mali.
Lange and his colleagues had informed the official in the morning of their intention to make the trip.
According to the aid worker’s driver, “it was when they were coming back that they were intercepted by armed individuals on four motorbikes,” the official said.
“They beat them, they took the white (aid worker) and they burned the vehicle,” he added.
Jihadists, including those supporting the so-called Islamic State, have established a presence in western Niger near the border with Mali, where they have carried out bloody bombings, shootings and kidnappings.
In October 2017, 12 Nigerien paramilitary police were killed in Ayorou, 200 kilometres (125 miles) northwest of the capital Niamey, and four US and four Niger soldiers were killed.
US aid worker Jeffery Woodke, reportedly in his 50s, was seized at gunpoint from his home in October 2016 in the Tahoua region. His fate remains unknown and his kidnappers have still not been identified.
Germany has built a military support base for the UN Military Mission (MINUSMA) which fights jihadists in Mali and supports Niger with military equipment, training and financial aid.
Wednesday’s kidnapping coincided with the start of the annual US-led Flintlock military exercise, with over 1,500 African, US and European personnel deployed at multiple locations in Niger.
The April 9-20 exercises will unfold in the Tillaberi, Tahoua and Agadez regions and also in parts of Burkina Faso and Senegal.
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