US citizen kidnapped in Niger rescued in military operation

World

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.

President Donald Trump announced the rescue in a statement.

Last night, at my direction, the United States military conducted a successful operation to rescue an American hostage in Nigeria, kidnapped just 96 hours earlier. United States Special Forces executed a daring nighttime operation to rescue their fellow American with exceptional skill, precision, and bravery. No United States Service Members were harmed. The former hostage is currently in good health and has been reunited with his family.  

Securing the freedom of Americans held in captivity abroad has been a top national security priority of my Administration. Since the beginning of my Administration, we have rescued over 55 hostages and detainees in more than 24 countries. Today’s operation should serve as a stark warning to terrorists and criminal thugs who mistakenly believe they can kidnap Americans with impunity. 

President Trump

Philipe Nathan Walton 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.

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.

The U.S. official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the rescue 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 said it 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, according to the official, who said no ransom was paid.

President 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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