Children play by a bullet-riddled police station in Gao, Mali. August 28, 2013.UN Photo / Marco Dormino
A Colombian nun was kidnapped by armed men last night (7 Feb) in southern Mali, a relatively safe part of the country, which has been mainly unaffected by Islamist attacks.
Gloria Argoti is part of the congregation of Franciscan Sisters in the convent of Karangasso, about 300km from Bamako, the capital.
Local sources said a group of armed men broke into the convent at around 9pm. They kidnapped the nun and locked up her assistant, before driving away in a car belonging to the convent. The car was later abandoned by the kidnappers, who were said to have continued their journey on motorbikes.
They also took some valuables, including laptops. Her assistant was later found and freed from the room in which she had been locked.
“The area where the religious woman was kidnapped is a quiet area and that is what is surprising,” Fr. Edmond Dembele, Secretary General of the Episcopal Conference of Mali, told Fides. “That area of the country has not yet been touched by the insecurity that affects other areas of Mali.”
Malian security forces have initiated a search operation in an attempt to rescue the nun. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.
The Malian government and the predominantly Tuareg rebel groups signed a peace agreement in June 2015, with limited impact.
Jihadist groups have regained ground and intensified attacks, targeting Malian security forces and UN peacekeepers.
The UN Mission in Mali honours nine Nigerien peacekeepers killed on 3 October 2014.UN Photo/Marco Dormino
On 18 Jan. a vehicle packed with explosives detonated at a camp housing soldiers and members of rival armed groups in Mali’s northern city of Gao, killing more than 60 people and injuring more than 100 others. Al-Qaeda’s North African affiliate, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, said a group linked to it had carried out the attack.
Earlier, on 24 Dec, a French-Swiss aid worker was kidnapped in Gao. Sophie Petronin, who runs a non-governmental organisation that helps children suffering from malnutrition, has lived in Gao for years.
A year before (on Jan 8, 2016), a Swiss missionary was kidnapped in Timbuktu, also in northern Mali. Beatrice Stockly was taken from her residence before dawn, by armed men who arrived in four pickup trucks. It is thought that Stockly’s abduction was the first of a foreigner since the kidnapping and killing of two French journalists, Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon, in the north-eastern town of Kidal in November 2013.
A video released by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb on 10 Jan, 2017 appeared to show Stockly was still alive.
The kidnapping of the Colombian nun suggests the reach of the militants is growing. It’s the first incident in southern Mali since the November 2015 attack, which claimed 22 lives at the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako.
Mali is ranked 32nd on Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List of the 50 countries in which it is most difficult to be a Christian. Mali was the highest riser on the annual list, rising from 44th in 2016.