Niger says Italian priest is kidnapped in southwest region

September 18, 2018 - 5:41 am

NIAMEY, Niger (AP) — Niger's government says an Italian priest has been kidnapped in the nation's southwest near its border with Burkina Faso.

Government spokesman Zakaria Abdourahmane said Tuesday that the government wasn't aware the priest was in that region. He said investigations have begun to find the attackers and free the priest. No further details were available.

The Rev. Pierluigi Maccalli was a member of the Congregation of the Society of African Missions religious order. In Niger, he had promoted initiatives to encourage an end to the cultural practice of female genital mutilation, which had sparked some local opposition to him, according to the Fides missionary news agency in Rome.

In Rome, the Italian foreign ministry said it had asked local authorities in Niamey to give "absolute priority" to resolving the kidnapping but asked that they avoid "any initiative that could put Father Maccalli at risk."

Burkina Faso's border with Mali and Niger is home to jihadists who kidnap and kill officials, sometimes in connection with other Islamic extremist groups in West Africa's vast Sahel region.

Extremism in that region has been mounting in the past year, as young men frustrated by poverty are becoming radicalized.

Niger has for years fought extremist groups linked to both al-Qaida and the Islamic State organization.

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Winfield contributed to this report from Rome.

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