An American citizen has been kidnapped in southern Niger, the senior state official in the area told AFP on Tuesday.

The American -- the son of a missionary who has been living in Niger "for several years" -- was abducted "in a garden on the outskirts of Massalata", a village 400 kilometres (250 miles) east of the capital Niamey, the prefect of the Birni Nkonni department, Ibrahim Abba Lele said.

The official initially said that the missionary had been kidnapped but corrected this account.

There were no immediate further details about the disappearance.

Niger lies in the heart of the vast and impoverished Sahel, which is struggling with a jihadist insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives and driven hundreds of thousands from their homes.

Map of Niger, locating Massalata
Map of Niger, locating Massalata AFP / STAFF

Several westerners are currently hostage in the region.

They include American aid worker Jeffery Woodke, who was kidnapped in the central town of Abalak in October 2016 and is believed to have been taken to neighbouring Mali.

The president of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou, said in September last year that he had information that Woodke was alive and in good health.

Three Europeans, including 75-year-old French NGO worker Sophie Petronin, were released by their captors in Mali earlier this month under a prisoner swap arranged by the Malian government.