Jeffery Woodke, 55, the U.S. missionary who was kidnapped by armed men from his home in Niger, West Africa, on Friday after they killed his two guards, is now believed to be in the hands of a drug-trafficking jihadist group called The Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO).
Update: American missionary kidnapped in Niger believed to be taken by drug-traffickers https://t.co/0xBzSQcQ4O— The Christian Post (@ChristianPost) October 18, 2016
"We think this is the MUJAO," Nigerien Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum told the AFP. "We followed the kidnappers when they crossed the Malian border. They headed to the Menaka region (eastern Mali), near the Niger border, an area controlled by the Mujao."
According to the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium, the MUJAO is a splinter group of the Organization of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which formally announced its existence following its abduction of three humanitarian workers from a Saharan refugee camp in Tindouf on Oct. 23, 2011. MUJAO's leaders are known to be drug traffickers involved in the drug trade in the Sahel and southern Algeria.
A Paris Match report suggests that Woodke's kidnapping could be the result of a dispute concerning a stolen drug shipment which implicates a local government official. Woodke, who is affectionately known as the "white wolf," is being used as collateral.
The missionary, who is from McKinlyville, California, is a longtime aid worker with The Youth With A Mission charity and has been living in Niger since 1992. As recently as Sept. 17, he was also listed as an instructor at Redwood Coast School of Missions which is operated by the Arcata First Baptist Church.
Although he is a proud believer in Christ, a Le Monde report said Woodke never proselytized while he was in Niger with his wife and two sons. The sons reportedly returned to the U.S. with their mother in 2006 to pursue graduate studies while Woodke split his time between the U.S. and his work in Niger.
The Christian Post reached out to YWAM for comment on the investigation into Woodke's kidnapping on Tuesday but no one was available.
A representative from Arcata First Baptist Church said the organization is expected to release a statement on the kidnapping soon.