MALI – Several countries unite in search for kidnapped Franciscan Sister
On 7 February, Sister Gloria Cecilia Narvaez Argoti, a Colombian nun of the congregation of Franciscan Sisters of Mary Immaculate, was abducted in the village of Karangasso, some 400 kilometers east of Bamako in Mali. The kidnappers said that they would release Sr Gloria Cecilia in two days, but there is still no news of her.
Bogota authorities sent the special Guala anti-kidnapping group of Colombia’s National Police to Mali to investigate the kidnapping and help local authorities to find Sister Gloria. The Guala Group is specialised in the search for kidnapped people and has technical and intelligence skills. Colombian agents are working with their Malian counterparts and those of at least one European Country who are already engaged in the search of the religious nun.
A few days after the kidnapping two Malian suspects were stopped and taken into custody while driving the ambulance belonging to the Sisters in which Sr Gloria had been taken away but which was abandoned soon after.
The kidnappers were heading towards Burkina Faso and security sources from Burkina Faso say Sr Gloria is in their country. Mali’s army is searching for the nun in the border areas with Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast. The Franciscan Sisters have now issued an international online petition asking the governments of Mali, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast to “use all the resources needed to find Sr Gloria.”
The local bishop relocated the remaining Sisters for their own safety, so the community’s work in Karangasso – caring for orphans; teaching adult women to read, write and sew; dispensing medications – has been suspended. Since 1996, more than 300 women per year received training in sewing and literacy. In the villages which surround Karangasso the granaries that the women established with the advice of Sr Gloria have improved the economy, nutrition and health of their families. In a letter, dated 26/1/2001, Sister Gloria Cecilia Narváez Argoti stated the following: “I am ready to give my life to the Lord, to the Congregation, wherever it is His Holy Will”. Her Superior, Sr Noemi Quesada, described Sr Gloria as “a very committed woman, an educator who knows what the needs of the people are.”
There was no official claim of responsibility for the kidnapping from the country’s five main jihadist groups, mainly the al-Qaeda affiliate Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Signed-in-Blood Battalion and Islamic Movement for Azawad. However the kidnappers told the Sisters they were jihadists and this incident appears to have been motivated by Islamic extremism.
Attacks in the south of Mali by jihadists, a threat that was once confined to the restive north, have become increasingly common.
On Christmas Eve last year a French aid worker, Sophie Petronin, was seized in Gao, in the north. Last month, Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in North Africa released a new proof-of-life video of Swiss missionary Beatrice Stockly, who has been held hostage by the group for more than a year.
Northern Mali fell under the control of Tuareg-led rebels and jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda in 2012. They were largely ousted by a French-led military operation in January 2013. Yet the implementation of a peace accord reached in 2015 has been piecemeal, with insurgents still active across large parts of the country.