American kidnapped in West African nation of Benin

Posted at 05/27/12 9:18 AM

LAGOS - An American citizen has been kidnapped in the West African nation of Benin, a US embassy spokeswoman said Saturday, but details of the incident were unclear.

"I can confirm an American got kidnapped in Benin last week," Melissa Ford, a spokeswoman for the US embassy in neighbouring Nigeria, told AFP, indicating she had no other details.

She directed further questions to the embassy in Benin, which declined to comment. Benin authorities also declined to comment.

The victim's identity could not be immediately determined, nor was it clear who the kidnappers were or whether the person seized remained in the hands of the abductors.

Kidnappings have been rare in Benin, a former French colony of some nine million people.

Abductions for ransom have however occurred regularly in the south of Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation and largest oil producer. Most victims have been released unharmed following ransom payments.

However, an insurgency by the Islamist group Boko Haram, which is concentrated mainly in northern Nigeria, has also left more than 1,000 people dead since mid-2009.

Authorities blamed the recent deaths of a British and an Italian hostage in Nigeria's north on a faction of Boko Haram. A German engineer was also kidnapped on the outskirts of the northern city of Kano in January.

Sea piracy has recently spread from the waters off Nigeria to Benin, which last year saw a surge in attacks involving gangs taking vessels hostage in order to steal their fuel cargo.

Benin's north also borders the nation of Niger. A number of kidnappings of foreigners in the arid Sahel region spanning Niger, Mali, Mauritania and Algeria have been carried out by or on behalf of Al-Qaeda's north African branch.

Earlier this month, a west African Al-Qaeda splinter group threatened to kill a Spanish hostage kidnapped in western Algeria last year if their demands were not met.

The threat was made by the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, or MUJAO.

MUJAO first emerged last December, presenting themselves as an offshoot of Al-Qaeda's north African branch when they claimed the kidnap three months earlier of three aid workers -- two Spaniards and an Italian -- from Algeria.

Al-Qaeda's north African branch, known as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), has also played a key role in unrest in northern Mali.

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