An Australian couple reportedly kidnapped and held by militants in Burkina Faso have dedicated their lives to providing medical services to people in the remote north of the country, a family spokesperson said on Sunday.
Dr. Ken Elliott and his wife Jocelyn were kidnapped overnight in northern Burkina Faso near the border with Mali, President Roch Marc Christian Kabore said in a televised address to the nation on Saturday after al Qaeda fighters staged an attack on the capital Ouagadougou.
It is not known if the Elliott's abduction was related to the attack. The doctor and his wife are in their 80s.
Hamadou Ag Khallini, a spokesperson for Malian militant group Ansar Dine, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that jihadists from the al Qaeda-linked "Emirate of the Sahara" group, which operates in northern Mali, are holding the couple.
More details would be released soon, Khallini said in a brief phone message. "Recent news from the country indicates an alleged abduction of Ken and Jocelyn on Friday night, however no reason is yet given for this and their whereabouts is still unknown," a family spokesperson said, in a statement released by Australia's foreign ministry.
The couple have operated a 120-bed clinic in the town of Dijbo, where Ken is the only surgeon, for more than 40 years. "They are held in high esteem by the local people," the spokesperson said, requesting that their family be granted privacy.
Until Friday's attack, Burkina Faso, an ally of Western governments against jihadist groups in the arid reaches of the southern Sahara, had largely been spared the violence that has plagued its neighbours.
An Australian foreign ministry spokesperson said its office in Ghana is working with authorities and declined to comment further.