U.S. aid worker, French journalist freed after years held hostage in West Africa – National

U.S. aid worker, French journalist freed after years held hostage in West Africa – National

An American aid employee held by Islamic extremists in West Africa for greater than six years and a French journalist kidnapped nearly two years in the past had been each freed Monday, authorities mentioned.

They had been introduced collectively to Niger’s capital. U.S. officers mentioned no ransom had been paid for aid employee Jeffery Woodke, praising Niger’s authorities for serving to his launch. The French authorities didn’t touch upon how journalist Olivier Dubois’ freedom was received.

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a go to to Niger final week and introduced $150 million in direct help to the Sahel area.

Officers in Niger unexpectedly introduced Monday morning that the 2 males had taken a particular flight to the nation’s capital however supplied no particulars. U.S. officers mentioned that the American hostage was not freed in Niger however in the encircling area that features Mali, the place Dubois was kidnapped in 2021.

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The 2 males had been the best-profile foreigners identified to be held in the area, and their launch was the biggest since a French girl and two Italian males had been all freed collectively in Mali again in October 2020.

The press group Reporters With out Borders, which had lengthy pushed for Dubois’ launch, mentioned that “we really feel pleasure and immense aid,” and thanked French authorities.

Els Woodke, launched a press release by means of a household spokesman saying she had not but spoken together with her husband however had been instructed he was in good situation.

“She praises God for answering the prayers of Christians in every single place who’ve prayed for this end result,” the assertion learn.

Woodke had been kidnapped from his house in Abalak, Niger, in October 2016 by males who ambushed and killed his guards and compelled him at gunpoint into their truck, the place he was pushed north towards Mali’s border.

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At a 2021 information convention in Washington, Els Woodke mentioned she believed that her husband was being held by an al-Qaida-linked militant group generally known as JNIM and mentioned her husband’s captors had made a multi-million-greenback ransom demand for his launch.

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Dubois additionally was being held by JNIM militants, although it was unclear how a lot time the 2 overseas hostages had spent in captivity collectively, mentioned Laith Alkhouri, CEO of Intelonyx Intelligence Advisory.

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“Whereas it stays unclear what circumstances led to the discharge of the hostages, it won’t be a coincidence that their freedom got here as Blinken wrapped up his go to to Niger and earmarked hundreds of thousands of {dollars} in aid, a few of which may have oiled the Niger authorities to make use of its intelligence equipment in negotiating their launch,” Alkhouri mentioned.

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Teams have lengthy kidnapped hostages for ransom in the Sahel, the huge, semi-arid expanse beneath the Sahara Desert. Beforehand launched captives have described being moved incessantly from web site to web site in harrowing circumstances amid sweltering temperatures. The extremists goal to make use of hundreds of thousands in ransom to fund their jihadi operations, although not all international locations have interaction in fee negotiations.

The Biden administration official didn’t determine the precise group believed answerable for retaining Woodke in captivity, saying various overlapping networks in operated in that a part of West Africa.

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No less than 25 foreigners and untold numbers of locals have been kidnapped in the Sahel since 2015, in line with the Armed Battle Location & Occasion Knowledge Undertaking. In 2020, Swiss authorities mentioned Christian missionary Beatrice Stoeckli was killed by her militant captors.

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Militants with hyperlinks to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group are believed to nonetheless be holding various captives, together with a German priest. The Rev. Hans-Joachim Lohre was making ready to rejoice Mass in Mali’s capital when he was kidnapped final November.

Final yr an Italian couple and their little one had been kidnapped with a family worker in southern Mali.

— Tucker reported from Washington and Larson reported from Dakar, Senegal. Related Press writers Sam Mednick in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso; Angela Charlton in Paris and Baba Ahmed in Bamako, Mali contributed.

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