During a high-risk U.S. military operation in neighboring Nigeria, an American citizen kidnapped last week in Niger was rescued, officials told ABC News early Saturday.
As part of a major effort to free the U.S. resident, Philip Walton, 27, the operation was undertaken by elite commandos before his kidnappers could get far after taking him hostage on Oct. 26 in Niger, counterterrorism officials told ABC News.
About 2 hours ago the US Navy elite special forces Seal Team Six, flew into Northern Nigeria and rescued a 27 years old American Philip Walton kidnapped early in the week by terrorists.The Nigerian and Nigerien governments cooperated with the US.@HannaUwakwepic.twitter.com/FnkvJ7sdqc
The operation involved the U.S., Niger, and Nigerian governments working together to quickly rescue Walton, sources said.
Mr. Hoffman reported that during the mission, no American military personnel was wounded. In the raid, some of the captors were killed, U.S. officials said.
A former U.S. official said the CIA provided information leading to Walton’s whereabouts and Marine Special Operations elements in Africa helped locate him.
Then, the elite SEAL Team Six carried out a “precision” hostage rescue mission and, according to officials with direct knowledge of the case, killed all but one of the seven captors.
Jonathan Hoffman, the chief spokesperson for the Pentagon, said Saturday in a statement. “U.S. forces conducted a hostage rescue operation during the early hours of 31 Oct. in northern Nigeria to recover an American citizen held hostage by a group of armed men,”
Mr. Hoffman, who did not identify Mr. Walton, said, “he is safe and is now in the care of the U.S. Department of State.”
The attackers were criminals who wanted to sell Mr. Walton to terrorist groups in the area, one American official said. With the assistance of officials in Niger and Nigeria, the operation was coordinated rapidly, the official said.
The rescue began just after midnight local time early Saturday, according to U.S. authorities, when about 30 Navy commandos parachuted into the remote area where Mr. Walton had been taken by the kidnappers. Members of the rescue team walked about three miles until they entered the small encampment of the captors in a copse of bushes and trees.
The abduction of Mr. Walton was just the latest spasm of violence in the Sahel region of Africa, which has seen an increasing torrent of attacks by the Islamic State and affiliates of Qaeda, especially in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.