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Niger town calls for release of abducted US aid worker

A small central city in Niger on Sunday called for the "unconditional release" of a longtime US aid worker abducted in 2016, whose fate is unknown a year later.

“We demand the unconditional and immediate release of Jeffery Woodke,” a statement from the residents of Abalak read on national television said.

“Those who abducted him did not kidnap an American, but one of us,” the statement read.

Woodke, reportedly in his 50s, was seized at gunpoint on the evening of October 14, 2016 from his home in Abalak in the Tahoua region of Niger, about 350 kilometres (220 miles) from capital Niamey.

According to local officials, “two armed men in turbans” stormed in and grabbed him, killing his bodyguard and a member of the national guard.

His fate remains unknown and his kidnappers have still not been identified. But Niamey suspects the al-Qaeda linked Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), of being behind the kidnapping and believes the American is being held in Mali.

“Our thoughts are with Jeffery’s wife and two children: we share in your grief, we share in your hope that one day he will be back with us,” the statement said.

“Whatever happens, Jeffery Woodke remains one of our heroes”.

The aid worker — who speaks the local language Tamasheq fluently as well as Fula and Arabic — had run the aid group JEMET since 1992, helping the local Tuareg community.

Jihadists, including those of the Islamic State, have established a presence in southwestern Niger near the border with Mali — where they have carried out a wave of bloody bombings, shootings and kidnappings.

On October 4, four US soldiers and at least four Nigerien troops were killed in the area in an ambush thought to be carried out by a regional affiliate of the IS group.

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