By Rebecca Seiler, Communications Coordinator
03/04/2015 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – What began as a normal Monday morning quickly turned to tragedy when American missionary Phyllis Sortor was kidnapped by masked and armed gunmen in central Nigeria. On Feb. 24, Sortor was taken from the front of her house on the Hope Academy compound and a ransom demand of $300,000 quickly followed. Although Christians in Nigeria have been heavily persecuted by Boko Haram (BH) in the last two years, it is suspected that the radical Islamist terrorist group is not responsible for this abduction.
According to reports, a group of five masked and armed men scaled the walls of the Hope Academy compound in Emiworo, Kogi State, and fired shots in the early hours of the morning. The men abducted Sorter and fled with her from the compound into mountains. There were no other injuries or kidnappings reported, indicating that she was likely the sole target of the attack. Within hours of her abduction, Sortor’s captors demanded a ransom of $300,000. Later, they lowered their demand to $150,000 when it was clear her family was unable to come up with such a large amount of money.
Sortor was the financial administrator for Hope Academy as a missionary for the Free Methodist Church. She has built and taught in Nigerian grade schools for nearly 15 years. “She is one of the most God-fearing people in the world, and all she wants is for everybody to have a good life and to be happy — and equality,” Sorter’s stepson told Q13 Fox in an interview.
Abduction of Christians and extreme violence are the types of activities for which the Islamic extremist group BH is known. Their violent November 2014 kidnapping of 270 girls from the primarily Christian village in Chibok and the horrific attack on Baga in January, leaving reports of 2,000 dead, are just two examples of their terrorist capabilities.
However, further investigation into the matter seems to indicate that they are not responsible for the capture of Sortor. The initial demand for ransom was made hardly 24 hours after Sortor’s disappearance which would be an abnormal timeline for BH. The kidnapping also took place in the town of Emiworo, which is located slightly south of the capital of Abuja in central Nigeria. Due to the fact that BH operates primarily in northern Nigeria, experts believe that the location of the kidnapping is another indication that they were not responsible for the crime.
Furthermore, the way the abductors have handled ransom demands points to non-BH actors. While the initial ransom demand was $300,000, within three days it was dropped down to $150,000 which is considered low for a major terrorist group such as BH. According to Fox News, these factors all point suspicions toward small, local gangs looking for a quick buck and operating under the general impression “that Americans have money,” said Kogi State Police Commissioner Adeyemi Ogunjemilusi.
Following the initial ransom demand, Sortor’s stepson stated that his “working-class family” does not have the money to afford the ransom. However, even if the funds were available, the Sortor family has been strongly advised not to negotiate with her captors. “We don’t think it’s a good idea for the family to negotiate with the abductors on the ransom because we are sure we will find her,” said Ogunjemilusi. Paying a ransom would also increase the likelihood of similar kidnappings in the future, possibly within the same compound.
There have been no recent reports indicating either Sorter’s whereabouts or when she might be released. “We just want her to be safe and get out,” her stepson said. In the meantime, the church released a statement on the day of Sorter’s abduction, calling for “the U.S. church to join together in prayer for Phyllis’ safety and speedy release.”