American Missionary Jeffery Woodke Kidnapped by Suspected Islamists in Niger

American missionary Jeffery Woodke was abducted by gunment in his house in Abalak, Niger Friday night and was taken by truck to Mali, a local official said.

American missionary Jeffery Woodke was abducted by gunmen in his house in Abalak, Niger Friday night.

The attack happened around 8 p.m. local time. A statement form the interior ministry said gunmen arrived in a motorcycle and killed his guard and housekeeper. Shortly after, a Toyota Hilux arrived and Woodke's kidnappers forced him inside the pickup truck, Reuters reported.

"These criminals are now heading towards Mali. Our forces are on their trail," said interior minister Mohamed Bazoum. 

Woodke was allegedly told to strip down to his undergarments before he was forced in the truck, something that terrorists commonly practice when abducting people in order to avoid being tracked, CNN reported.

Nonprofit organization Youth With A Mission said Woodke has worked in Niger for 29 years. Before he was abducted, he was working with JEMED, a local nongovernment organization, to help Fulani and Tuareg people against disease, drought and lack of education access.

"At the time of the abduction, two other men were killed including a local Tuareg night guard and a national guard. It is not known where he has been taken and no group has yet claimed responsibility for his abduction," YWAM spokesperson Pete Thompson told The Independent. "His family have been informed and the US government is tracking the situation."

No group has claimed responsibility for the abduction so far.

Kidnappings of foreigners are known to be rare in the region compared to Mali. Previous kidnappings have targeted French and European nationals, and Woodke is believed to be the first American abducted in the area.

The U.S. State Department said it is ensuring the safety of its citizens.

"We are aware of reports of the kidnapping of a U.S. citizen in Niger," an official from the State Department told The New York Times. "The U.S. Department of State has no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas."

The department also warned U.S. citizens against travel to Niger because of terrorist threats.

"The terrorist organization Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has kidnapped Europeans in the region and continues to threaten to kidnap Westerners, including US citizens, in Niger," the department said, according to CNN.

At the time of his abduction, Woodke was listed as an instructor at the Redwood Coast School of Missions, but his name has been removed. The school is operated by Arcata First Baptist Church in California. The website said Woodke has been involved in mission work for 25 years and has been providing humanitarian aid to the people of Niger.  

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