A Swiss tourist taken hostage in North Africa in January has been released to authorities in Mali, officials said on Sunday.
The health of the Swiss citizen, who had been held in Mali after his capture with three other European tourists, appears to be reasonably good considering the six-month ordeal, according to information received by Swiss representatives in Mali, a foreign ministry official said.
Two of the other hostages were released in April, and the third was killed in May.
The release was the second in a matter of hours on opposite sides of the world of hostages being held by groups linked to al-Qaeda. In the Philippines, militants freed an Italian Red Cross worker earlier on Sunday.
One of the four hostages held in North Africa, Edwin Dyer of Britain, was killed by his captors on May 31, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said.
The four European tourists — as well as two senior UN envoys — were kidnapped near the Mali and Niger borders. Likely abducted by local gunmen, they were transferred to al-Qaeda’s North Africa branch, which asked for a ransom and the release of a radical Islamist preacher held in Britain.
Mali President Amadou Toumani Toure informed Swiss officials of the man’s release, Ambassador Markus Boerlin of the foreign ministry told reporters in the Swiss capital, Bern.
The freed hostage was expected late on Sunday in Bamako, Mali, where he would be handed over to Swiss representatives, Boerlin said.
“He will then be immediately examined and cared for by a physician,” Boerlin said. “As soon as his health permits, he will be brought back to his family in Switzerland.”
Swiss officials have yet to learn of the details of the release and were unable to talk to the man until his arrival in Bamako, Boerlin said.
“It is clear, however, that he is exhausted after nearly a half year of being a hostage,” he said.
Boerlin said Swiss officials never negotiated with the kidnappers and paid no ransom.
The Swiss ministry thanked the government of Mali for its efforts in winning the release. Boerlin said Switzerland had long years of cooperation with the Mali government to promote its development.
Swiss officials have been in close touch with the man’s family during his captivity, which “was a difficult time of hope and deep concern for his life,” especially after the death of Dyer, said Christian Dussey, head of the crisis staff set up by the Swiss government.
Officials have never disclosed the name of the Swiss man, but Swiss media have identified him as Werner Greiner.