Kidnapped French Journalist and US Aid Worker Freed in West Africa
A French journalist and an American aid worker held hostage in West Africa were both released on Monday.
Nigerien officials unexpectedly announced on Monday morning that Olivier Dubois and Jeffery Woodke had taken a special flight to the country’s capital, but offered no 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 men appeared to be in good physical health when they briefly met a small group of journalists in Niamey. Dubois, abducted nearly two years ago, 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 was tanned, had his long gray hair tied in a ponytail and was using a cane, did not speak. He was kidnapped six years ago.
US officials said no ransom was paid for Woodke’s release and praised the Nigerien government for helping secure his freedom. The French government has not commented on how the freedom of journalist Olivier Dubois was won.
Last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Niger, where he announced $150 million (€140 million) in direct aid to the Sahel region.
The pair 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, said “we feel joy and immense relief”, and thanked the French authorities.
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.
Authorities believe he was being held by an al-Qaeda-linked militant group known as JNIM and said her husband’s kidnappers demanded a multimillion-dollar ransom for his release.
Dubois was also being held by JNIM militants, although it was unclear how long the two foreign hostages had spent together in captivity, said Laith Alkhouri, CEO of Intelonyx Intelligence Advisory.
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.
On Monday, the International Committee of the Red Cross announced that two of its employees had 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.
At least 25 foreigners and countless locals have been abducted in the Sahel since 2015, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project. In 2020, Swiss authorities said Christian missionary Beatrice Stoeckli was killed by her militant captors.
Militants linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group still hold a number of captives, including a German priest. Reverend Hans-Joachim Lohre was preparing to celebrate Mass in the Malian capital when he was kidnapped last November.
Last year, an Italian couple and their child were kidnapped with a domestic worker in southern Mali.