FLASH ALERT: HIGH RISK OF KIDNAPPING & ARMED ASSAULT OF WESTERN NATIONALS IN WEST AFRICA & THE SAHEL

October 2020 | CTG AFRICOM Team


Location: MASSALATA, TAHOUA REGION, NIGER


PRIORITY: HIGH


REPORT:  IMMEDIATELY


EVENT: RANSOM KIDNAPPING


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) is issuing a FLASH ALERT to all foreign nationals, particularly those from Western countries in West Africa and the Sahel. The current CTG threat matrix indicates that an increase in kidnappings for ransom in this region in the near future is HIGHLY PROBABLE. We base this assessment on the increased rate of attacks against foreign nationals over the past year. Nearly half of the attacks in the region result in kidnappings, with foreign nationals often being targeted for ransom. The kidnapping of Walton is the third such incident in southern Niger this year.  He is believed to be the seventh foreign national currently held by terrorist organizations in Niger.


An American kidnapped on October 26, 2020, in Niger was rescued by US military forces in Nigeria on October 31, 2020.[1] Philippe Nathan Walton, an American living in the parish of Massalata (Tahoua region), was abducted by unidentified armed men.[2] The armed men on motorcycles reportedly entered Walton’s home and demanded a ransom. They left Walton’s wife and children, all Americans, tied up before exiting the home[3] and likely crossed into neighboring Nigeria.[4] The kidnapping of Walton signals a concerning trend of increased kidnappings across West Africa and the Sahel.


No terrorist organization has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, and an investigation is ongoing.[5]


Foreign humanitarian workers, missionaries, and expatriates have increasingly come under attack in West Africa and the Sahel over the past year.[6] Attacks along the borders of Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger are frequent, as it is a hotspot for violence by separatist and jihadist groups such as Boko Haram, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), gangs, cattle thieves, and violent herdsmen. The majority of attacks involve armed assaults in which 46%[7] of incidents result in a kidnapping. While victims local to the area are also targets, foreign nationals particularly from Western countries, such as the United States and France, are typically held for ransom for years to bargain for financial capital or for prison exchanges with negotiating governments or their respective proxies such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs).



Figure 1: Niger and Nigeria


The kidnapping of Walton will be the third incident in southern Niger this year (see figure 1[8]). Prior incidents involved the kidnapping of 10 local aid workers by unknown perpetrators in June from the village of Bossey Bangou along the border with Burkina Faso[9] and the infamous killing of six French humanitarian workers in August at a giraffe reserve in Koure by ISWAP.[10] Walton was kidnapped further east along the border with Nigeria which suggests an expansion of this kind of activity from Niger into Nigeria since Boko Haram and ISWAP typically conduct these particular attacks in Northeast Nigeria. Nonetheless, ISWAP, Boko Haram, and even smaller factions, such as Ansaru, still operate across the entire northern part of Nigeria alongside other criminal and extremist actors.[11] It is therefore imperative to consider the transnational nature of the threat and the fluidity of incidents which may involve multiple actors engaging in low-level tactical cooperation.


Conclusion

CTG assesses the current threat to foreign nationals in southern Niger as HIGH with regards to the threat of kidnapping. This is based on ongoing monitoring and analysis of attacks involving armed assault and kidnapping of foreign humanitarian workers, missionaries, and expatriates along the borders of Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger. It appears the threat involves numerous actors, some of which are known, such as Boko Haram and ISWAP, while others remain unknown. Therefore, the threat to foreign nationals in the region remains a major concern particularly in light of the recent incident involving the kidnapping of Philippe Walton.


To summarize, we assess two probabilities:


Our analysis indicates there is a HIGH probability of armed assault and kidnapping of foreign nationals for ransom along the borders of Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger.


Our analysis indicates the kidnapping of Philippe Walton took place out of the main areas where Boko Haram and ISWAP have instigated armed assaults and kidnapping. As a result, there is a MEDIUM TO HIGH probability Walton’s kidnappers are non-jihadi actors.




If you have any further information, please contact The Counterterrorism Group

 By telephone 202-643-2848 or email info@counterterrorismgroup.com


[1] American hostage Philip Walton rescued in dramatic military operation: Officials, ABC News, October 2020, https://abcnews.go.com/International/american-hostage-philip-walton-rescued-dramatic-military-operation/story?id=73940195

[2] Kidnapping of Massalata: a name on the kidnapped man, AîrInfo, October 2020, https://airinfoagadez.com/2020/10/27/kidnapping-de-massalata-un-nom-sur-lhomme-enleve/

[3] Ibid.

[4] American kidnapped in southern Niger, according to local official, Westport New, October 2020 https://www.westport-news.com/news/article/American-kidnapped-in-southern-Niger-says-local-15678167.php

[5] US Embassy in Niger, October 2020, https://ne.usembassy.gov/fr/u-s-citizen-abducted-in-niger-fr/

[6] Security Incident Data, Aid Worker Security, last updated on 4 August 2020, https://aidworkersecurity.org/incidents/search?sort=desc&order=Year.

[7] Ibid.

[8]  Brenda Mugeci Githing’u, “Niger and Nigeria” via Google Maps.

[9] At least 10 aid workers kidnapped in southwest Niger, Reuters, 25 June 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-niger-kidnapping/at-least-10-aid-workers-kidnapped-in-southwest-niger-idUSKBN23W2K0.

[10] Gunmen kill 8 in Niger, including six French aid workers, Al Jazeera, 9 August 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/08/09/gunmen-kill-8-in-niger-including-six-french-aid-workers/.

[11] Boko Haram’s Dangerous Expansion into Northwest Nigeria, Combating Terrorism Center at Westpoint, October 2012, https://ctc.usma.edu/boko-harams-dangerous-expansion-into-northwest-nigeria/.

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