Relatives: French Woman, Mali Politician Freed By Jihadists
FILE - Undated file frame grab from video, posted online by militant group Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen, that shows hostage Sophie Petronin in an unknown location, with a caption reading in Arabic 'My name is Sophie Petronin.' Islamic extremists have freed French aid worker Petronin, who was kidnapped back in 2016, and a prominent Malian politician Soumaila Cisse after holding him hostage for more than six months an official said Tuesday Oct. 6, 2020. (Militant Video via AP)
Relatives of a prominent Malian politician and a French aid worker held hostage by Islamic extremists said late Tuesday that both had been freed and would soon be on their way to the capital, Bamako.
- Associated Press
- Last Updated: October 7, 2020, 1:15 IST
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BAMAKO, Mali: Relatives of a prominent Malian politician and a French aid worker held hostage by Islamic extremists said late Tuesday that both had been freed and would soon be on their way to the capital, Bamako.
An official with Soumaila Cisse’s political party told The Associated Press that the parliament member’s relatives had been informed of his release. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists.
Meanwhile, the nephew of Sophie Petronin told France’s BFM-TV the family had received the news after his aunt spent nearly four years in captivity.
We can serenely tonight say shes free even if French authorities have not confirmed it yet, Lionel Granouillac said.
There was no independent confirmation in the remote northern town of Tessalit where the pair were reportedly freed in exchange for nearly 200 jihadists who had been in government custody.
There was no immediate comment from the French or Malian governments, though relatives of both the hostages had arrived in Bamako earlier Tuesday by plane from Paris.
Speculation about a prisoner exchange had heightened in recent days after the government freed more than 180 Islamic extremists over the weekend and put them on a plane to the north.
In December 2016, militants seized Petronin from the city of Gao, where she was helping orphans as an aid worker. She appeared 18 months later in a video released on Telegram by the al-Qaida-linked group known as JNIM. There was no immediate word on whether a Colombian nun also shown as a hostage in the video was released.
Cisse, a three-time presidential candidate, was traveling with his entourage in the north in March while campaigning for re-election as a member of parliament. Extremists ambushed his vehicle, killing his bodyguard, witnesses said. Cisse, 70, was injured by shattered glass, but little else is known about his conditions in captivity.
The only proof that Cisse was still alive was a handwritten letter delivered in August.
His re-emergence is likely to cast further uncertainty on the political scene in Mali. He lost the 2013 and 2018 elections to Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who was overthrown as president by the military junta in August after weeks of demonstrations organized by an opposition coalition.
While a transitional civilian government has been chosen, new elections are being organized with a 2022 deadline, providing a possible new avenue for Cisse.
Petronin, 75, was believed to be the last known French citizen held hostage abroad, though abductions are sometimes kept under wraps while negotiations are ongoing.
She was last seen in the video released in 2018. French media reported that the French foreign ministry informed her family that authorities had received a reliable proof of life in March this year. No details have been disclosed.
Associated Press writers Sylvie Corbet in Paris and Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed.
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