Armed men have kidnapped an Italian couple and their child as well as a Togolese national in southeastern Mali, a local official and a Malian security source told AFP Friday.
They said the abductions occurred late Thursday about 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the border with Burkina Faso, part of a west African region hit by turmoil, kidnappings as well as conflict blamed on armed jihadists.
"Armed men in a vehicle kidnapped three Italians and a Togolese about 10 kilometres (six miles) from Koutiala," late Thursday, an official from the Koutiala region who asked not to be named said.
He said the victims were two Italian adults and their child as well as a Togolese, adding they were all Jehovah's Witnesses.
A Malian security source, speaking on condition of anonymity, also said two Italian adults and their child, along with a Togolese, were kidnapped.
He described the abductees as "religious people".
He said the abductions took place in the southeastern town of Sincina, around 100 kilometres from the Burkina Faso border.
"We are doing everything to obtain their release," the person said, adding that diplomatic lines of communication were open.
The Italian foreign ministry later confirmed in a short statement "the kidnapping of three compatriots in Mali".
It said it was making "every effort" to secure a positive outcome to the case, while emphasising, "in agreement with family members, the need to maintain the utmost discretion".
Earlier, it said that Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio was personally following the case.
- Frequent kidnappings -
A number of foreigners have been kidnapped across the border in Burkina Faso in recent years.
Kidnappings are frequent in Mali, though motives span from criminal to political reasons.
In most cases, the conditions or circumstances of the release of kidnap victims is never clearly established.
Mali has since 2012 been wracked by a jihadist insurgency by groups linked to Al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State. Vast swathes of the country are in thrall to myriad rebel groups and militias.
Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed and hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes amid violence that began in the north of the country and spread to the centre, and then to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.
Olivier Dubois, a 47-year-old French freelance journalist who has been living and working in Mali since 2015, was kidnapped more than a year ago.
He announced his abduction himself in a video posted on social networks on May 5, 2021. In it, he said he had been kidnapped in the northern city of Gao by the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM), the main jihadist alliance in the Sahel, which is linked to Al-Qaeda.
On March 13, a video circulated on social networks showing a man who appears to be the French journalist addressing his relatives and the French government.