An Italian Catholic Priest who was working as a Missionary in Niger Republic has been kidnapped, 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.
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.
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 jihadist 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’’.
There are several Islamist groups in Niger’s border area with Mali and Burkina Faso, some of whom have sworn allegiance to the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.