Kidnapped US Citizen Rescued From Niger10/31 13:32
An American citizen kidnapped in the West African nation of Niger this past
week has been rescued in a U.S. military operation in neighboring Nigeria, U.S.
officials said Saturday.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- An American citizen kidnapped in the West African nation
of Niger this past week has been rescued in a U.S. military operation in
neighboring Nigeria, U.S. officials said Saturday.
The man was taken from his farm in Massalata in southern Niger early Tuesday
morning by armed kidnappers who demanded a ransom from the man's father. He was
identified earlier in the week by a local government official as Philipe Nathan
Walton, though other officials and news reports cited slightly different
spellings of the man's first name.
The Defense Department confirmed the operation Saturday, saying it took
place 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
department said in a statement.
SEAL Team 6, along with other members of a joint special operations force,
conducted the rescue, according to U.S. officials with knowledge of the
operation. The officials were not authorized to publicly discuss the operation
and spoke on condition of anonymity to provide details .
President Donald Trump said in a tweet that "courageous soldiers" had pulled
off a "daring nighttime rescue operation" and also told reporters that "it was
something that had to get done because they were playing with American
citizens." Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that the rescue
by "some of our bravest and most skilled warriors" underscores the U.S.
commitment "to the safe return of all U.S. citizens taken captive."
Niger has faced a growing number of attacks by extremists linked to both the
Islamic State group and to al-Qaida. The kidnapping comes two months after
IS-linked militants killed six French aid workers and their Niger guide while
they were visiting a wildlife park east of the capital.
A U.S. official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the rescue
before an official announcement and spoke on condition of anonymity, said there
were no solid indications that Walton's kidnapping was terrorism-related and
that it was instead "trending toward a kidnapping for ransom."
But the official said the U.S. government was concerned that the hostage
could be passed to another terrorist group, or that the kidnapping could become
a prolonged hostage-taking.
Walton is now back in Niger.
A local government official, Ibrahim Abba Lele, a prefect in Birni-N'Konni
town, told The Associated Press earlier this week that the kidnappers had
called and demanded ransom from Walton's father, who lives approximately 1
kilometer (about half a mile) away from his son's farm. No ransom was paid,
according to the U.S. official.
Trump has repeatedly promoted his administration's focus on securing the
release of American hostages held by militant groups abroad as well as others
being detained. Earlier this month, two Americans held captive by
Iranian-backed militants in Yemen were released, along with a third person, in
exchange for the return of about 250 of the Houthi rebels from Oman.