The teenage daughter of a pastor was on Tuesday kidnapped in Niger by militants under the aegis of the Islamic extremist group known as Boko Haram.
The abduction appears to be the first deliberate targeting of a Christian by militants in the West African nation, according to the persecution watchdog.
Aphodiya Garba Maida, 17, whose father is a pastor with the Église Évangélique de la République du Niger, was on her way to school in Diffa when she was kidnapped by three women and three men. She sent a message on her mobile to say she was being held in an unknown location.
Diffa borders Nigeria to the south and Chad to the east and has been attacked several times by Boko Haram. In July up to 40 women and children were abducted and nine people were murdered, while a month earlier a suicide bomber targeted a UNHCR camp for internally displaced people.
Christians are a minority in Niger, where 98 per cent of the population is Muslim. However, relations with Muslims have generally been good, though an upsurge of violence following the Charlie Hebdo cartoon of the prophet Mohammad in 2015 saw more than 70 churches and 30 Christian homes destroyed.
According to World Watch Monitor, analysts say the increase in anti-Christian violence is the expression of a growing intolerance in Niger’s society, aggravated by the rise of Islamism.