An American missionary has been kidnapped in southern Niger, close to the border with Nigeria, the senior state official in the area told AFP on Tuesday.

The missionary, who had been living in the region “for several years,” was abducted “in a garden on the outskirts of Massalata,” a village 250 miles east of the capital Niamey, according to the prefect of the Birni Nkonni department, Ibrahim Abba Lele.

There were no immediate further details about his disappearance and no immediate claims of responsibility.

Niger lies in the heart of West Africa’s vast and impoverished Sahel region, which is struggling with a jihadist insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives and driven hundreds of thousands from their homes.

Several westerners are currently being held hostage in the region.

They include American aid worker Jeffery Woodke, who was kidnapped in the central town of Abalak in October 2016 and is believed to have been taken to neighboring Mali.

The president of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou, said in September last year that he had information that Woodke was alive and in good health.

Three Europeans, including 75-year-old French non-governmental organization worker Sophie Petronin, were released by their captors in Mali earlier this month under a prisoner swap arranged by the Malian government.

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