Canadian man kidnapped in Burkina Faso: official

OUAGADOUGOU/TORONTO (Reuters) - A Canadian man was kidnapped in an area of Burkina Faso that the government has warned is under growing threat from jihadist attacks, the African country’s top security official said on Wednesday.

A dozen gunmen abducted the man around 1945 GMT (2:45 p.m. EST) on Tuesday at a mining site owned by Vancouver-based Progress Minerals near northern Burkina Faso’s border with Niger, Security Minister Clement Sawadogo said.

Progress Minerals Chief Executive Adam Spencer declined to comment.

Earlier this month, a Canadian man and an Italian woman went missing, Sawadogo said. “We have alerted our entire security presence to find these people,” he said.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Wednesday that the government was aware a Canadian was missing in Burkina Faso, and said it was working with local authorities.

“The relevant Canadian agencies are very much engaged in this difficult situation,” Freeland told reporters in Quebec.

Canadian media identified the kidnapped man as Kirk Woodman. In a statement to CTV News, the family asked for privacy.

“We have faith and trust in Canadian authorities to bring our husband and father home safe. We are hopeful for a fast resolution to the situation,” the family said in the statement.

Attacks by Islamist militants have surged in the country in recent months and Burkina Faso declared a state of emergency in several northern provinces that has been in effect since Dec. 31.

Security has deteriorated in the West African country in the past three years. Jihadists with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State, many based in neighboring Mali, have sought to increase their influence across the poorly policed scrublands of the Sahel region just south of the Sahara Desert in West Africa.

In response, international forces from the United States, France and other European powers have sent troops and equipment to help stamp out the threat.

Tuesday’s kidnapping occurred on the third anniversary of an attack in a hotel in the center of the capital, Ouagadougou, that killed dozens, shocking a country that until then had largely been spared the violence that has plagued its neighbors.

The same day, militants kidnapped an Australian doctor and his wife, both in their 80s. The doctor’s wife was later freed.

The attacks were claimed by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Last year, eight people died and dozens were wounded in a coordinated militant assault on the army headquarters and the French Embassy in Ouagadougou.

Reporting by Thiam Ndiaga in Ougadougou and Tyler Choi in Toronto; additional reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto; writing by Juliette Jabkhiro; editing by Mark Heinrich, James Dalgleish and Jonathan Oatis