BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Armed men have abducted an Italian family and their Togolese domestic worker in southern Mali, an official said Friday, the latest attack to target Westerners in the volatile West African country.

Chaka Coulibaly, mayor of the small town of Sincina, told The Associated Press that the men had broken into the home of the Christian missionary couple on Thursday night.

The Italian couple are Jehovah’s Witnesses and were working to set up a church in the commune, a member of Mali’s small Christian community said.

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio was following developments, the foreign ministry said, adding that its Crisis Unit “is carrying out the required verification and checking.”

Sincina is located some 400 kilometers (249 miles) east of Mali’s capital, Bamako, and near the country’s troubled southern border with Burkina Faso where Islamic extremists are active.

Jihadi rebels have long kidnapped Westerners and held them for ransom in the Sahel region of Africa, a vast territory south of the Sahara Desert. Abductions have been more common in northern Mali, but Thursday’s attack was not the first of its kind in the south.

In 2017, a Colombian nun, Sister Gloria Cecilia Narvaez, was kidnapped by al-Qaida-linked militants in Karangasso, about 27 kilometers (17 miles) from where the Italian family has been abducted. The nun was released in 2021 after spending more than four years in captivity.

Earlier this month, a cardinal testified that Pope Francis had authorized spending up to 1 million euros to free her. It is not known how much — if any — Vatican money actually ended up in the hands of the extremists. Ransom payments are rarely confirmed to dissuade future kidnappings.

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Associated Press writers Frances D’Emilio and Colleen Barry in Rome contributed.