Missionary abducted in Niger shown alive in video released by jihadists

Father Pierluigi Maccalli (L) and Italian tourist Nicola Ciacco (R) are seen in a 23-second video released by their captors in April 2020.
Father Pierluigi Maccalli (L) and Italian tourist Nicola Ciacco (R) are seen in a 23-second video released by their captors in April 2020. | YouTube/Fundação AIS

A Catholic missionary priest who was abducted in Niger in 2018 is still alive, according to a proof-of-life video released last week that was purportedly filmed in late March.

The Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need reports that Father Pierluigi Maccalli was seen in a 24-second video, released last Monday that also featured Italian tourist Nicola Ciacco. 

The 59-year-old Maccalli is a missionary serving with the Society of African Missions.

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Maccalli’s brother, Father Walter Maccalli, who is serving in Liberia, told Aid to the Church in Need that he was joyful to see that his brother is still alive. 

“It’s great news, and we are delighted and hopeful that everything may turn out well,” Maccalli was quoted as saying, adding that he was a bit surprised by the video. 

“I never expected to get news of this kind about my brother ... [as] a great deal of time has passed without knowing anything.”

According to the charity, the new video is the first time there has been an update about Maccalli since he was kidnapped in September 2018 from the Bomoanga parish, near Niger’s border with Burkina Faso. 

The video was first sent to the editor of Niger’s Aïr Info newspaper.

Over the last few years, the rise of Islamic radical extremist groups in the Sahel region of West Africa has led to a sharp increase in violent attacks and abductions in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso.

Aïr Info reports that Ciacco and Maccalli are believed to be held by Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin, a Salafist extremist group founded in Mali in 2017. 

The same organization is believed to have also abducted Canadian national Edith Blias and her Italian boyfriend Luca Tacchetto. Both were abducted in December 2018 and released in March

SMA Italian Provincial Superior Father Ceferino Cainelli told Aid to the Church in Need that there has been a prayer gathering every month in Maccalli’s home diocese of Crema to call on God for the priest’s release. 

“The pain caused by the absence of Father Pierluigi, after a year and five months of his kidnapping, is very much felt,” Cainelli said. 

According to International Christian Concern, a U.S.-based persecution watchdog organization, Maccalli served in Niger for 11 years before he was taken captive from his home by armed gunmen. 

“This means that the gunmen were specifically targeting Father Maccalli for this kidnapping,” ICC reports. “So far it is unclear as to why they abducted him. There have been no ransom demands that have been released, and they have not killed him as a public statement.”

ICC called the new video a “good sign.” But it is still unclear in which country Maccali is being held. 

Niger, a predominantly Muslim country, ranks as the 50th worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s 2020 World Watch List. 

“Abduction is very common in the Sahel region and a lucrative business,” Open Doors USA reported in a 2020 country dossier on Niger.  “Communal worship and meetings of Christians have to be conducted with caution in such areas to avoid drawing the attention of militant groups in the locality.”

Across the Sahel region, the rise of radical extremism has displaced over 1.1. Million people, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs. 

“Niger continues to face constant population displacement due to increased activities by non-State armed groups in the Tillaberi and Tahoua regions in the west and the Diffa region in the southeast, while food insecurity and malnutrition threaten millions of people across the country,” a report from OCHA reads. 

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