Nigerian kidnappers currently holding American missionary Rev. Phyllis Sortor have decreased their original ransom demand of $300,000 in half, leading experts to believe to believe they are a small criminal gang and not the violent extremist group, Boko Haram.
The 70 year old Seatlle native and pastor of the Free Methodist Church was captured on Monday from the Hope Academy compound in Kogi State by armed gunmen who demanded the hefty sum for her release. At the time, Sortor's family expressed devastation at their inability to pay the amount.
"We are just a working-class family, we don't have money. That's not a huge church, they don't have money. Why they took her, who knows? The people that are doing this stuff, these guys have no backing - they're just cowards," Sortor's stepson, Richard Sortor, told Q13 Fox News in an interview.
Experts believe the relatively small ransom now requested by the kidnappers indicates that they are not Boko Haram, the deadly Islamic extremist group which has terrorized Nigeria for the past year and often demands massive amounts for their prisoners.
"That's not big money if you are a trans-national jihadist," Mark Schroeder, vice president of Africa Analysis for global intelligence at the global intelligence firm Stratfor told Fox News. "It could be some local gang desperate for cash. Or presidential elections are coming up and this could have been a quick way for a group to extort money basically for rigging an election."
He added, "This [Kogi State] is one of the areas that's in between in terms of militant activity...We haven't seen meaningful Boko Haram operations in this area. Reaching down to this region doesn't make sense for them."
However, authorities, including Nigerian security forces, the State Department and the FBI have discouraged Sortor's family from negotiating with the group, insisting they are confident she will soon be released
"The general concept here is that Americans have money," Kogi State Police Commissioner Adeyemi Ogunjemilusi said. "So they thought that by kidnapping her, they can get money."
According to the Free Methodist Missionaries' website, Sortor is the financial administrator for the Hope Academy and was working to build a new school in the area for a group of Muslim children at the time of her kidnapping. The missionary has also worked in West Africa for nearly a decade building wells and bringing clean water to the community.
In her latest newsletter, dated January 20, 2015, Sortor writes of the 'joy' of a new school opening in Enugu. "We have worked long and hard on this school, and are so thrilled that yesterday, January 19th, 2015, we were able to open our doors for the first time!" she writes.
"[The staff are] wonderful Christian people who I know, with God's help, will make this school great!"
"She's a very courageous woman," colleague Brenda Young told NBC News. "She's one of the most devoted, compassionate, hard-driving women I've ever known...Her feeling was that these were her people, and that she loved them. She felt like this is where she was supposed to be," Young added.
The Free Methodist Church is urging all churches to join together in prayer for the safe return of Sortor.