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U.S. citizen kidnapped in West African nation of Niger, officials say

This Feb. 6, 2013, photo shows French armored vehicles heading toward the Niger border. American and French forces have spent years providing training and support to the militaries of Mali, Niger and other countries in this corner of Africa. (Jerome Delay/AP)

ACCRA, Ghana — An American citizen was kidnapped in southern Niger early Tuesday near an area where militants linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are known to attack, U.S. and Nigerien officials said.

No group has asserted responsibility for the abduction, which a senior government official in Niger said happened in Birnin Konni, a remote town close to the West African country’s border with Nigeria. The official was not authorized to speak publicly.

A State Department spokesperson, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to department rules, said the department was aware of the abduction of a U.S. citizen and was providing the victim’s family with “all possible consular assistance.”

Other details about the American were scarce. The State Department said it was working with Nigerien authorities but declined to share more information, citing privacy concerns.

Six French aid workers and two local guides shot dead in Niger giraffe park

Niger is grappling with an Islamist insurgency that has grown deadlier during the coronavirus pandemic.

Violence in the Sahel, a vast stretch of arid land south of the Sahara Desert, has surged as nations struggle to confront a security crisis on top of the public health threat.

The number of casualties this year had reached 5,365 by October, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, which is tracking the conflict — a 12 percent increase from 2019’s entire tally.

The kidnapping comes less than two months after Islamic State fighters ambushed a normally calm giraffe sanctuary near Niger’s capital, Niamey, killing seven aid workers and their local guide.

Niger’s military has partnered with French soldiers — with the United States providing intelligence — in the fight against extremism.

The U.S. military began flying Reaper drones out of an air base last November in the desert region of Agadez.

The 17-acre facility is a base for hundreds of American soldiers. It took about four years to build and cost an estimated $110 million.

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In the area where U.S. soldiers died in Niger, Islamist extremists have deep roots