Three Europeans and a prominent Malian politician who were held captive by Islamic extremist group Al Qaeda for years have been finally freed.
A report by the Associated Press and was picked up by The New York Times on Thursday said that the four hostages arrived in Mali’s capital late Thursday where they were greeted by family members.
Among the freed hostages were two Italians, a 75-year-old French woman, and three-time Malian presidential candidate Soumaila Cisse.
The release came after the Malian government released some 200 militants and sent them by plane to northern Mali. It was unclear whether a ransom was paid.
The French hostage, Sophie Petronin who was held hostage for four years, arrived in France on Friday and was welcomed by President Emmanuel Macron.
Macron said he was glad and relieved at her release. He thanked the Malian military and promised that French authorities will continue to combat against terrorism in the west African region.
Petronin said that her abduction would not stop her from continuing her humanitarian work with malnourished children.
Meanwhile, in an interview with Mali state broadcaster ORTM, Cisse said: “I spent six months in … very difficult living conditions, in almost permanent isolation, but I must confess that I was not subjected to any violence, neither physical nor verbal.”
The two Italians, on the other hand, Father Pierluigi Maccalli and Nicola Chiacchio were kidnapped in 2018 and last year, respectively.
Maccalli was a Catholic missionary priest from the African Missionary Society (SMA) and was captured from his parish in Niger.
In a Twitter post, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced that Maccalli and Chiacchio were returning to Italy.
Four other prisoners: Australian doctor Ken Elliott, Colombian nun Gloria Cecilia Narvaez Argoti, South African national Christo Bothma, and Romanian Julian Ghergot were believed to be still being held.
Meanwhile, Swiss national Beatrice Stockly, also one of the hostages, was said to be killed by the group.
“It was with great sadness that I learned of the death of our fellow citizen,” Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis was quoted as saying in a statement.
“I condemn this cruel act and express my deepest sympathy to the relatives,” he added.
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