After being missing for 20 months, a US missionary is said to be alive, according to Niger’s president.
Jeff Woodke, a missionary to Northern Niger, was kidnapped in October 2016 from the town of Abalak. Woodke worked for a branch of the organization You With A Mission (YWAM) called Jeunesse en Mission Entraide et Developpement (JEMED).
Woodke was living in Northern Niger at the time, serving under the organization JEMED when he was abducted during the night on Friday, October 14, 2016.
Ever since he was abducted 20 months ago, there has been absolutely no information on where Woodke was taken, or what his abductors wanted of him.
After 20 months of silence, Mahamadou Issoufou, the President of Niger, announced that Woodke was alive. The president told France24, a TV channel, that Woodke, along with a German aid worker that was kidnapped a few months back in April.
“We have some news; we know they’re alive,” President Issoufou said. “We continue to create the conditions for their release. Perhaps the contacts that are underway will help to achieve that goal.”
This news brings hope, as it is the first time anyone has heard anything about the two Western citizens lives.
The only tidbit of information that was known about Woodke’s condition or location was when Nigerian authorities tracked his abductors to the country of Mali. No one has been able to identify Woodke’s abductors or detail what group they belong to.
Over the past 20 months, various jihadist groups have shown videos that include foreign hostages, but Woodke has not been in any of them.
Specifically last July, a video was released in which six foreign hostages were shown, three of which were missionaries, by a coalition of jihadist groups from the Sahel region (Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen, also known as the Group to Support Islam and Muslims).
The three missionaries shown in the video are still in captivity. The missionaries included Gloria Argoti who is a Colombian nun who was abducted from her convent in Karangasso, Mali in February 2018. Another one of the missionaries was Ken Elliot, an Australian surgeon who was kidnapped from Djibo, Burkina Faso in January 2016. The last missionary, Beatrice Stockly, was also kidnapped in January 2016 when she was abducted from Timbuktu, Mali.
After the video of the hostages was released, Els Woodke, Jeff’s wife, released her own video where she pleaded for her husband’s release. She believed that he could have been being held hostage by the same jihadists, and asked for his release.
“I am sure that the families of the captives were very encouraged by this message and appreciated the mercy shown by Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen in sending this news and instructions about their loved ones,” said Mrs. Woodke in her video.
“But my husband Jeff is not mentioned, so I did not receive the benefit of the reassurance and directions of how to proceed that the other families did. This has been very hard for me, for Jeff’s sons and his father to understand.”
Joerg Lang, the German aid worker, who was also found to be alive, was abducted on April 11 in Ayorou, Niger. The aid worker for Help was taken at gunpoint close to Mali and hasn’t been seen since.
President Issoufou stated that although he got word that the two were alive, he did not know where they were. He did, however, say that he thinks “it is more likely that they are in Mali.”
Although no one has claimed responsibility for either abduction, an anonymous security source stated that the abductors took Woodke to northern Mali.