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Journalist and aid worker released in Mali after years held hostage

A French journalist held hostage by Islamist extremists for nearly two years in Mali was released on Monday, according to the French president and media constable Reporters Without Borders.

Olivier Dubois was kidnapped in April 2021 in northern Mali, a region of the country ravaged by jihadist violence linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group.

French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted on Monday: “Olivier Dubois is free” but he did not give further details such as the terms of Dubois’ release, including whether it involved a ransom, were not disclosed.

“We feel joy and immense relief,” Reporters Without Borders, also known by its French acronym RSF, said in a statement.

She thanked the French authorities for having “implemented the necessary means to obtain his release”, without giving further details.

Aid worker Jeffery Woodke was also released

Dubois’ release came on the same day that an American aid worker was also freed.

US officials said no ransom had been paid for Jeffery Woodke, who was held for more than six years, and praised the Nigerien government for helping secure his release.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited the region last week where he announced $150 million in direct aid to the Sahel region.

“I’m very happy that we now see that happening today,” Blinken said, thanking his team and Niger for their efforts. “We won’t rest until they’re all home, like Jeffery, reunited with families.”

Els Woodke released a statement through a family spokesperson saying she had not yet spoken with her husband, but was told he was in good condition.

Woodke had been abducted from his home in Abalak, Niger, in October 2016 by men who ambushed and killed his guards and forced him at gunpoint into their truck, where he was taken. leads north towards the Malian border.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said efforts to free Woodke were being led by the U.S. military, law enforcement and intelligence community, working closely with the French government.

Both were greeted by supporters

Nigerien officials unexpectedly announced on Monday morning that the pair had taken a special flight to the country’s capital, but did not provide any details. US officials said the US hostage was not released in Niger but in the surrounding region which includes Mali, where Dubois was kidnapped in 2021.

Both appeared to be in good physical health when they briefly met a small group of journalists in Niamey. Dubois smiled broadly as he was greeted by well-wishers, saying he was tired but fine.

“It’s amazing for me to be here, to be free,” said the 48-year-old journalist. ” I was not excpecting that at all. I would like to pay tribute to Niger and its knowledge of this type of delicate mission. And pay tribute to France and to all those who have made it possible to be here today.

Woodke, who wore her long gray hair in a ponytail and used a cane, did not speak to reporters.


Also, on Monday, the International Committee of the Red Cross announced that two of its employees have been released in Mali. The organization did not disclose the identity of the employees or the circumstances of the kidnapping, and it was not possible to confirm whether there was a connection with the other hostages whose release was announced on the same day. day.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said efforts to free Woodke were being led by the U.S. military, law enforcement and intelligence community, working closely with the French government.

Woodke and Debois were the most high-profile foreigners known to be detained in the region, and their release was the biggest since a Frenchwoman and two Italians were freed together in Mali in October 2020.

The Reporters Without Borders news organization, which had long called for Dubois’ release, also celebrated on Monday.

“We feel joy and immense relief,” the group said, thanking the French authorities.

Hostages for ransom

Groups have long kidnapped hostages for ransom in the Sahel, the vast semi-arid expanse beneath the Sahara Desert. Previously released captives have described being frequently moved from site to site in appalling conditions amid sweltering temperatures. The extremists aim to use millions in ransoms to fund their jihadist operations, although not all countries are engaging in payment negotiations.

Last year, an Italian couple and their child were kidnapped with a domestic worker in southern Mali. Other hostages taken in West Africa include Ken Elliott, an Australian doctor kidnapped in 2016, and Romanian citizen Julian Ghergut, seized near a mining site in 2015.

euronews Gt

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