Armed men in central Mali have abducted five Catholics, including an abbot, Church officials said Tuesday, in the latest kidnapping in the war-torn Sahel state.
The group disappeared on Monday while traveling from the mostly Catholic area of Segue in the center of the country, to the funeral of an abbot in the town of San, according to Church members.
“We have confirmation that it was a kidnapping by armed men,” said Father Alexis Dembele, a Church leader. “This is a great concern for the Catholic community in Mali,” he added.
Colonel Major Abass Dembele, the governor of central Mali’s Mopti region, confirmed the abduction but did not offer further details.
Mali has been struggling to quell a brutal jihadist insurgency that first emerged in the country in 2012 and has since spilled over into Burkina Faso and Niger.
Thousands of soldiers and civilians have died in the conflict to date, and hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes.
The former French colony of 19 million people is predominantly Muslim. According to the archdiocese of Mopti, Catholics make up only about four percent of the population.
The motivation behind the abduction of Catholic mourners is unclear, and militants have rarely targeted the community for kidnappings.
Kidnappings are frequent in Mali, with militants seeking either to exact ransoms or to exert political pressure.
French journalist Olivier Dubois, kidnapped in April, is believed to be in the hands of the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM), the biggest jihadist alliance in the Sahel.
Church official Cleophas Tienou told AFP that Abbot Leon Douyon was a member of the kidnapped group, as well as the chief of Segue, the deputy mayor, and two other local residents.