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Navy commandos save American kidnapped in Niger

WASHINGTON – U.S. Special Operations Commandos conducted a pre-dawn raid on Saturday to rescue a U.S. citizen who was kidnapped this week from his home in southern Niger.

Commandos from the Navy’s elite SEAL Team 6 rescued American Philip Walton, 27, after tracking attackers’ phones to a hideout in neighboring northern Nigeria, officials said Americans.

“US forces carried out a hostage rescue operation in the early hours of October 31 in northern Nigeria to recover an American citizen held hostage by a group of armed men,” Jonathan Hoffman, the main gate, said on Saturday. – speech from the Pentagon.

Mr Hoffman, who did not identify Mr Walton by name, said he “was safe and is now in the custody of the US State Department”. Another official said Mr Walton was taken to a US air base in Niamey, the capital of Niger, to be reunited with his family.

Mr. Hoffman said no US serviceman was injured during the operation. Several of the kidnappers were killed in the raid, US officials said.

Mr. Walton, the son of missionaries, lives with his wife and young daughter on a farm near Massalata, a small village near the border with Nigeria. US and Nigerien officials said Mr Walton was arrested in his backyard in front of family members on Monday after attackers demanded money. He offered them $ 40 and was then taken away by gunmen on motorcycles, officials said. The kidnappers demanded nearly a million dollars in ransom for Mr. Walton’s release.

A US official said the attackers were criminals who intended to sell Mr. Walton to terrorist groups in the region. The operation was organized quickly with the help of officials in Niger and Nigeria, the official said.

According to US officials, the rescue began just after midnight local time early Saturday when about 30 Navy commandos parachuted into the remote area where the kidnappers had taken Mr Walton. Members of the rescue team traveled about three miles until they encountered the kidnappers’ small encampment in a thicket of scrubland bushes and trees.

During the brief but intense shootout that followed, all but one of half a dozen kidnappers were killed. A kidnapper escaped during the night. Mr Walton was not injured in the shooting and he went to a makeshift landing zone, where an American helicopter took him to safety.

Several Westerners are currently hostages in the region. Among them, the American aid worker Jeffery Woodke, who was kidnapped in the town of Abalak, in central Nigeria, in October 2016 and allegedly taken to neighboring Mali.

Mr Walton’s kidnapping was just the latest spasm of violence in Africa’s Sahel region, which has seen a growing torrent of attacks from Islamic State and Qaeda affiliates, particularly in the Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.

Six French aid workers and their Nigerien guide were killed by Islamic extremists in August while visiting an animal park near Niamey. An ambush in October 2017 near the Niger-Mali border killed four American soldiers.