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Swiss woman abducted in Mali's Timbuktu

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A Swiss woman has been abducted from her house in the northern Malian town of Timbuktu by several unidentified gunmen, witnesses and local officials say.

"Beatrice, a Swiss national, was abducted this Sunday at Timbuktu by armed men," local official Mohamed Ould Hassen told the AFP news agency on Sunday.

Yehia Tandina, a resident of the town, confirmed the identity of the woman and the fact that she had been abducted.

A neighbour of the abducted woman, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, also confirmed the incident.

The kidnapped woman has been described as a missionary, and sources told Reuters that she was abducted in the neighbourhood of Abaradjou.

Tuareg separatists and armed religious groups took control of the town from the Malian authorities on April 1.

The woman, in her 40s, was very active in the local community as a missionary and did not leave when the town was taken over.

"She is very well known in the town. She would walk around the town trying to convert people [to Christianity]," a resident
of the town told Reuters, asking not to be named. 

A spokesman for the Swiss foreign ministry said his government was looking into the report.

Timbuktu was known for centuries as a key trading town in the Sahara and a seat of Islamic learning. It was also a top tourist destination in Mali, but insecurity in recent years, including the abduction of several foreigners there by al-Qaeda-linked fighters last year reduced the number of visitors to a trickle.

In the days leading to the capture of the town, most Westerners who were resident there had left, in fear of being kidnapped. 

Tuareg MNLA rebels smuggled two British citizens and a Frenchman out of the town following the rebel assault.


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