Niamey, Niger Republic : Father Pierluigi Maccalli, an Italian Catholic Priest who was working as a Missionary in Niger Republic has been abducted, a Vatican news agency reported on Tuesday.
Father Pierluigi Maccalli of the Society of African Missions (SMA) was abducted overnight, Agenzia Fides reported, quoting another Catholic priest based in Niger, Father Mauro Armanino.
Maccalli organised meetings against local practices like circumcision and female genital mutilation, and this “may be one of the reasons for the kidnapping, according to local sources,’’ Fides said.
A Niger government spokesman, Abdourahamane Zakaria, confirmed the kidnapping of an Italian near the border with Burkina Faso.The Niger Defence Ministry added that the abductee was a priest.
Zakaria said authorities had not been aware the priest was in the country’s southwest near the Burkina Faso border. He said investigations have begun to find the attackers and free the priest.
Maccalli was based in the Bomoanga parish in the Niamey diocese, Fides said.
His mission was in the Gourmance area near the Burkina Faso border, about 125 kilometres from Niamey, it added. 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 Niger’s capital, Niamey, to give “absolute priority” to resolving the kidnapping but asked that they avoid “any initiative that could put Father Maccalli at risk.”
The Italian embassy in Niger asked local authorities to give top priority to the case and to avoid “initiatives that may put at risk Father Maccalli,’’ the Italian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
In a second report, Fides said it heard from unnamed SMA sources that the priest was “probably taken across the border’’ to Burkina Faso where militant groups have set up bases.
Maccalli’s brother Walter, also a missionary priest, told ANSA: “We wish with all our heart that everything will work out for the best. In some cases all you can do is pray and wait with hope’’.
The Catholic Mission of Society of African Missions (SMA) is located in the Gourmancé area (South-West) on the border with Burkina Faso and about 125 km from the capital Niamey. The Gourmancé people are entirely devoted to agriculture and estimated in this region is around 30 thousand inhabitants.
The Society of African Missions (SMA) confirmed the abduction via the Mondo E Missione page on Facebook. It said it was “in round-the-clock contact” with a crisis cell at the Italian foreign ministry. “There has been no claim by the kidnappers at present,” it said.
A German humanitarian worker was abducted in the same region of Tillaberi in April, while an American aid worker was seized farther north in October 2016. Security officials believe that they have been taken to northern Mali as hostages.
Niger is a predominantly Muslim country, where between one and two percent of the inhabitants are Christians in a population of about 20m.
Earlier this month in the Diffa region, a 70-year-old woman who was the mother of a national deputy was abducted by armed men on motorcycles. The abductors demanded a ransom of 20 million FCFA ($35,000) but she was eventually released.
“We did not pay ransom, the kidnappers brought her back,” said her son, Boulou Boukar.
Other abductions have been reported in the Maradi Region, which neighbors Nigeria’s Zamfara state.
A mixed patrol of Nigerien and Nigerian military has been set up for weeks along the border, according to Maradi governor Zakari Oumarou.
Nigeria’s Defense Minister Mansur Mohammed Dan Ali has been in Niger for two days discussing with President Mahamadou Issoufou the insecurity along Niger’s southern border with Nigeria.