October 31, 2020
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Kidnapped US Citizen Rescued From Niger10/31 13:32

   An American citizen kidnapped in the West African nation of Niger this past 
week has been rescued in a U.S. military operation in neighboring Nigeria, U.S. 
officials said Saturday.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- An American citizen kidnapped in the West African nation 
of Niger this past week has been rescued in a U.S. military operation in 
neighboring Nigeria, U.S. officials said Saturday.

   The man was taken from his farm in Massalata in southern Niger early Tuesday 
morning by armed kidnappers who demanded a ransom from the man's father. He was 
identified earlier in the week by a local government official as Philipe Nathan 
Walton, though other officials and news reports cited slightly different 
spellings of the man's first name.

   The Defense Department confirmed the operation Saturday, saying it took 
place in northern Nigeria.

   "This American citizen is safe and is now in the care of the U.S. Department 
of State. No U.S military personnel were injured during the operation," the 
department said in a statement.

   SEAL Team 6, along with other members of a joint special operations force, 
conducted the rescue, according to U.S. officials with knowledge of the 
operation. The officials were not authorized to publicly discuss the operation 
and spoke on condition of anonymity to provide details .

   President Donald Trump said in a tweet that "courageous soldiers" had pulled 
off a "daring nighttime rescue operation" and also told reporters that "it was 
something that had to get done because they were playing with American 
citizens." Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that the rescue 
by "some of our bravest and most skilled warriors" underscores the U.S. 
commitment "to the safe return of all U.S. citizens taken captive."

   Niger has faced a growing number of attacks by extremists linked to both the 
Islamic State group and to al-Qaida. The kidnapping comes two months after 
IS-linked militants killed six French aid workers and their Niger guide while 
they were visiting a wildlife park east of the capital.

   A U.S. official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the rescue 
before an official announcement and spoke on condition of anonymity, said there 
were no solid indications that Walton's kidnapping was terrorism-related and 
that it was instead "trending toward a kidnapping for ransom."

   But the official said the U.S. government was concerned that the hostage 
could be passed to another terrorist group, or that the kidnapping could become 
a prolonged hostage-taking.

   Walton is now back in Niger.

   A local government official, Ibrahim Abba Lele, a prefect in Birni-N'Konni 
town, told The Associated Press earlier this week that the kidnappers had 
called and demanded ransom from Walton's father, who lives approximately 1 
kilometer (about half a mile) away from his son's farm. No ransom was paid, 
according to the U.S. official.

   Trump has repeatedly promoted his administration's focus on securing the 
release of American hostages held by militant groups abroad as well as others 
being detained. Earlier this month, two Americans held captive by 
Iranian-backed militants in Yemen were released, along with a third person, in 
exchange for the return of about 250 of the Houthi rebels from Oman.

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