A 28-year-old Argentine agricultural engineer, recently liberated from abduction likely committed by nomadic criminal groups in Nigeria, told his family to thank soccer superstar Lionel Messi for saving his life. The athlete’s name, claims Santiago López Menéndez, was the only way he could communicate to his captors that he was Argentine and not American.
López was abducted in Niger State last Wednesday, while working for Flour Mills, allegedly by a truck full of heavily-armed criminals. His captors barely spoke English, much less Spanish, and López found himself with limited resources to communicate with them and understand why he had been kidnapped and what they wanted.
Multiple attempts to explain to his captors that he was from Argentina, not the United States, failed, according to López’s brother. It was not until he began to shout, “Messi, Messi, Messi,” that the captors understood his meaning. López, now currently safe in the Argentine embassy in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, noted that following the communication breakthrough, he was no longer subject to beatings and deprivation of water or food, and his captors made quick contact with the Argentine embassy to demand a ransom. “Tell them to thank Messi for me,” López told his brother from Nigeria to tell the press, “mentioning his name saved my life.”
Upon being freed, his brother—currently working in Sierra Leone—told Argentine newspaper Clarín, he was forced to “walk more than 150 kilometers” and “drink water from puddles” until he was found.
The prime suspects of López’s kidnapping, upon the news of his capture were, of course, the jihadist terror group Boko Haram, though the area near the Nigerien border where he was abducted does not boast a very strong Boko Haram presence.
Now that López is safe, thanks to a payment of unknown quantity to the kidnappers, Argentina’s ambassador to Nigeria has stated that they do not believe Boko Haram was involved in his capture. “This is not an area where there is a very visible Islamist presence,” said Gustavo Dzugala, “and they have not made any political statements to us. This [kidnapping] has all the characteristics of a criminal group demanding ransom.”
López’s family and the Argentine government have not released the price they had to pay to save López, though reports before his release indicated that the group had demanded $500,000 to return him to safety.