An elderly French aid worker and a top Malian politician on Thursday landed in Bamako to an emotional reunion with their loved ones after being released from captivity by militants.
Mali had earlier announced the release of Frenchwoman Sophie Petronin, 75, and Malian politician Soumaila Cisse, alongside two Italians.
French President Emmanuel Macron voiced “immense relief” at the release of Petronin, and wrote on Twitter that he would welcome her back to France.
Footage shared on social media showed a frail, white-robed Petronin — who was the last French citizen held hostage in the world — descending from a plane, to an emotional greeting from her son.
Cisse, 70, followed her and was also embraced by loved ones.
In his post, Macron also expressed continued support for Mali in its fight against an insurgency.
News of the hostages’ release came after the Malian government released more than 100 prisoners last weekend, which sparked immediate speculation of a prisoner swap for Petronin and Cisse.
In an unexpected development, the office of Acting Malian Prime Minister Moctar Ouane announced that two Italians — Nicola Chiacchio and Pier Luigi Maccalli — had also been freed.
It was not immediately clear whether the two had arrived in Bamako on the same flight.
Petronin was abducted by gunmen on Dec. 24, 2016, in the northern city of Gao, where she worked for a children’s charity.
Cisse, a 70-year-old former opposition leader and three-time Malian presidential candidate, was kidnapped on March 25 while campaigning in his home region of Niafounke ahead of parliamentary elections.
Maccalli, a priest, was abducted in neighboring Niger in 2018. Chiacchio went missing in northern Mali last year while on a solo bicycle trip, Italian media reported.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Minister of Defense Lorenzo Guerini and Minister of Foreign Affairs Luigi Di Maio all hailed the release of the Italians, who Di Maio said were well.
Conte also thanked the Italian intelligence services and foreign ministry.
The Malian government gave no indication of the circumstances of the hostages’ release, nor did it provide information on their health.
There had been concerns about Petronin’s welfare while she was in captivity. She had appeared in two videos broadcast by the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM).
The last video in 2018 showed her looking emaciated and fatigued, and triggered alarm among her family members, who pressured Macron to negotiate with her captors.
Macron several times said that his government was working “tirelessly” for her release.
“To her family, to her loved ones, I send a message of sympathy,” Macron wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “To the Malian authorities, thank you. The fight against terrorism in the Sahel continues”
Mali’s former colonial power France has 5,100 troops deployed across the Sahel as part of its Operation Barkhane.
After first emerging in northern Mali in 2012, a brutal insurgency has spread to the center of the nation, as well as Burkina Faso and Niger.
Thousands of troops and civilians have died in the conflict, and hundreds of thousands have been displaced. Kidnappings are common.
One of the hostage negotiators, who requested anonymity, said that the talks remained difficult up to the end.
Mali released more than 100 prisoners to the volatile center of the nation last weekend, and in the northern town of Tessalit, a security official said earlier this week.
The rare mass release sparked immediate speculation on social media of an exchange.
Both the Malian and French governments declined to comment in the days following the mass release.
However, there had been little or no speculation about the release of the Italian hostages, whose freedom came as a surprise.
The prisoner release came with an interim government due to govern Mali for the next 18 months before staging elections after a military junta overthrew Malian president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in August.
The kidnapping of former opposition leader Cisse was one of the factors that fueled popular protests which led to the ouster of Keita over his perceived inability to crush the insurgency.
The intermediary involved in the negotiations on Thursday said that releasing the prisoners was necessary.
“Yes, terrorists were released,” he said. “We had to obtain the release.”
Several other hostages remain detained by militant groups in the Sahel.
French authorities yesterday said that they would close a Paris mosque as part of a clampdown on radical Islam that has yielded over a dozen arrests following the beheading of a teacher who had shown his pupils a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed. The mosque in a densely populated suburb northeast of Paris had disseminated a video on its Facebook page days before Friday’s gruesome murder, railing against teacher Samuel Paty’s choice of material for a class discussion on freedom of expression, a source close to the investigation said. The French Ministry of the Interior said the mosque in Pantin, which has
LONGSTANDING NEUTRALITY: The US request came as it vied for influence in Southeast Asia with China, but Indonesia has never let foreign militaries operate there Indonesia this year rejected a proposal by the US to allow its P-8 Poseidon maritime surveillance planes to land and refuel there, four senior Indonesian officials familiar with the matter have said. US officials made multiple “high-level” approaches in July and August to Indonesia’s defense and foreign ministers before Indonesian President Joko Widodo rebuffed the request, the officials said. Representatives for Indonesia’s president and defense minister, the US Department of State’s Office of Press Relations and the US embassy in Jakarta did not respond to requests for comment. Representatives for the US Department of Defense and Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday night said that he has no problem with being held responsible for the many killings under his crackdown on drugs, and that he is ready to face charges that could land him in jail, but not charges of crimes against humanity. Duterte’s televised remarks were among his clearest acknowledgement of the prospects that he could face a deluge of criminal charges for the bloody campaign he launched after taking office in the middle of 2016. Police have reported that at least 5,856 drug suspects have been killed in raids and more than 256,000 others arrested since
WEIGHING THE RISKS: One biogeochemist said that the known risks of disease from not sterilizing baby bottles outweighed that of microplastics Bottle-fed babies might ingest more than 1 million pieces of microplastics each day, new research showed on Monday, highlighting the abundance of plastics in our food products. There is growing evidence that humans consume huge numbers of the tiny particles, formed when larger pieces of plastic break down, but very little is known about the knock-on health consequences. Researchers in Ireland looked at the rate of microplastic release in 10 types of baby bottles or accessories made from polypropylene, the most commonly used plastic for food containers. They followed official guidelines from the WHO on sterilization and formula preparation conditions. Over a 21-day