Al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has taken a number of Westerners hostage in the past decade. Seven people are still detained in the Sahel region, including a South African tourist, a Columbian nun, a French humanitarian worker and a Swiss missionary, who were abducted in Mali. A Romanian mining worker and an Australian doctor were abducted in Burkina Faso along with an American humanitarian worker. It is unclear if AQIM is behind all these abductions.
A Swedish national, held hostage by AQIM in Mali since 2011, was released on June 26. His release raises the hope that other foreigners will be set free, including a South African national who was detained with the Swedish hostage.
Foreign nationals face a particularly high risk of kidnapping, especially from jihadist groups, throughout the region, although kidnappings have decreased since the French military deployed troops to the region in 2014 (Barkhane Forces). Though the risk of kidnapping is significantly higher on the bordering regions with Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso, the threat still exists in the capital cities as well (Niamey, Ouagadougou, Bamako).
Numerous armed groups are present throughout the region, including AQIM, Ansar Dine, and Al-Mourabitoun. Since March 2017, various attacks have been claimed in Mali by militants from the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), a recently formed Al-Qa'ida ally, that formed out of a merger between Ansar Dine, Al-Mourabitoun, and the Macina Liberation Front. The group is led by Iyad Ag Ghali, the veteran leader of Ansar Dine.
The security environment in the Sahel region remains complex.
Due to the underlying terrorist and kidnapping threats prevalent in the region, all those present in the region are advised to remain discreet regarding personal details, particularly information concerning nationality, employment, family, etc. Individuals are also advised to avoid public events and places frequented by Westerners, to remain vigilant at all times (especially in local markets, now used by terrorists as recruitment grounds), and to report any suspicious objects or behavior to the authorities. Professional security advice and support should be sought prior to travel.