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CNB News – A U.S. citizen was kidnapped in Niger early Tuesday, and American officials are working with local authorities on the search, a State Department spokesperson confirmed.

The spokesperson said the State Department is aware that an American citizen had been kidnapped and the agency is providing the unnamed individual’s family “all possible consular assistance.”

The spokesperson declined to provide additional information on the incident due to privacy reasons.

A senior Niger government official not authorised to speak publicly told The Washington Post Tuesday that the kidnapping, which was first reported by Reuters, occurred in Birnin Konni, a remote town close to the West African country’s border with Nigeria.

Al-Qaeda-linked militants and the Islamic State’s Boko Haram are known to operate and attack in the area.

Niger and other countries in the Sahel, a region of arid land south of the Sahara Desert, have experienced a surge in violence in recent years, which has escalated considerably since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Africa Center for Strategic Studies reported in July that the Sahel region has seen a nearly seven-fold increase in terrorist attacks in the past three years.

U.S. forces are in West Africa to train and assist security forces in an effort to quell extremist Islamic groups and those who pledge loyalty to the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.

In February, the Pentagon announced it would be reducing the troop force it sends of the Army’s 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade to Africa, “reducing the demand for brigade combat teams to conduct security force assistance operations there,” Pentagon spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said at the time.

But lawmakers have pushed back on the idea of a U.S. presence reduction in Africa over concerns that terrorist and extremist groups would grow in the region.

In August, six French humanitarian workers were killed in an ambush attack, along with their Nigerian driver and a guide in the Giraffe Zone in southwestern Niger. No group claimed responsibility for the attack at the time.

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