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US citizen kidnapped in Niger rescued in military operation

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington on Oct. 21, 2020.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington on Oct. 21, 2020.   -   Copyright  Nicholas Kamm/Pool via AP
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An American citizen kidnapped in the West African nation of Niger this past week has been rescued in a U.S. military operation in neighbouring Nigeria, the US Secretary of State has confirmed

Philipe Nathan Walton 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.

The Defence 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.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo added: "Outstanding work by the US military today in freeing a US citizen taken hostage in Niger and reuniting him with his family."

Niger has faced a growing number of attacks by extremists linked to both the Islamic State group and to al-Qaeda.

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 US official, who was not authorised to publicly discuss the rescue and spoke on condition of anonymity, told Associated Press 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 US government said it was concerned that the hostage could be passed to another terrorist group, or that the kidnapping could become a prolonged hostage-taking.

US President Donald 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.