NIGER – US missionary kidnapped by armed jihadists
An American missionary working in Niger was forced to strip down to his underwear and then kidnapped from his home by armed men. 55-year-old Jeffery Woodke from California is a longtime aid worker with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) charity. He has spent the last 25 years of his life working on the ministry he founded in Niger, to attend to previously unreached groups of people. At the time of his kidnapping Woodke was working with a local NGO called JEMED, a partner organization of YWAM, and has lived in Niger since 1992.
Residents reported hearing gunfire near Woodke’s home that evening. The town’s Mayor, Ahmed Dilo, said that gunmen came on a motorbike and killed kill Woodke’s guard and housekeeper before abducting the missionary. A local source in Abalak said the gunmen forced Woodke to strip down to his undergarments before putting him in their four-wheel drive vehicle. The source stated that removing clothes from hostages was a usual practice of terrorist groups trying to avoid being tracked.
Pete Thompson, a spokesperson for YWAM, said “It is not known where he has been taken and no group has yet claimed responsibility for his abduction.” However, latest reports say that Woodke is being held by a drug-trafficking jihadist group called The Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO). MUJAO is a splinter group of the Organization of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which abducted three humanitarian workers from a Saharan refugee camp in Tindouf on 23 Oct 2011. MUJAO’s leaders are known to be drug traffickers involved in the drug trade in the Sahel and southern Algeria.
“We think this is the MUJAO,” said Nigerien Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum. “We followed the kidnappers when they crossed the Malian border. They headed to the Menaka region (eastern Mali), near the Niger border, an area controlled by the Mujao.”
Arcata First Baptist Church in California is praying desperately for his safe return. Church leaders paid tribute to the missionary: “Jeff’s passion in providing humanitarian aid to those who are amongst the poorest in the world, coupled with his desire to see God’s Kingdom advanced in a largely Muslim world has played a large part in the life and ministry of AFBC.”
Woodke is believed to be the first American citizen abducted in the Sahel region of Africa, where al-Qaeda and criminal gangs have targeted French and other European nationals for more than a decade, demanding millions of dollars in ransom.