The French journalist Olivier Dubois and the American missionary Jeffery Woodke have been released this Monday after spending two years and six and a half years, respectively, kidnapped in Mali by the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (JNIM, for its acronym in Arabic). , linked to Al Qaeda.
Both landed this Monday at noon at the Niamey airport, the capital of Niger, smiling and in apparent good health.
"The hostages were recovered safe and sound by the Nigerien authorities before being handed over to the French and American authorities," the Nigerien Minister of the Interior, Hamadou Souley, told the media from the airport itself and together with the French ambassador in Niger. Sylvain Itte.
Collaborator in the Sahel for
, Olivier Dubois was kidnapped in Gao, in northern Mali, on April 8, 2021, when he was conducting an investigation into terrorism in this region.
He had been staying with a jihadist boss when he was kidnapped.
“I wanted to pay tribute to Niger, to France and to everyone who allowed me to be here today.
I feel tired, but I'm fine, ”he assured the journalists present.
After four in the afternoon, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, showed his joy through his Twitter profile: “I just spoke with Olivier Dubois: he is in good health.
It was an immense relief for the nation, for his family and his fellow journalists.
Big thanks to Niger for this release."
"It's an immense relief," said Christophe Deloire, secretary general of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), an organization that recalled that it was the French journalist who spent the longest time kidnapped after the war in Lebanon.
In addition, he is the last remaining Gallic hostage in the world.
“We had had reassuring news several times in the last few days and very recently: he seemed in good shape, but the length of his captivity worried us,” added Deloire.
For his part, Jeff Woodke, who had been carrying out humanitarian tasks in Niger for more than 30 years, was kidnapped on October 14, 2016 when he was at his residence in Agadez, in the north of this country.
His wife, Els Woodke, expressed in a statement from her her "deep gratitude to all the people from the governments involved and others around the world who have worked so hard to achieve this result."
Likewise, Jake Sullivan, US national security adviser, wrote on the Twitter profile that he was "satisfied and relieved" and thanked the Government of Niger for "its help in bringing him home to all those who miss him and they love”.
Recently, Abou Obeida Youssef al-Annabi, emir of Al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), one of the founding groups of JNIM, had confirmed in a written interview with journalist Wassim Nasr, from France24, that Dubois was in his hands.
In his response, Al Annabi left the door open for negotiation and assured that the ball was in the court of the French authorities, Nasr said.
In December 2022, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Catherine Colonna, had assured during a visit to the Ivory Coast that her government was doing "everything possible" to free the kidnapped journalist.
Colonna herself had asked for discretion, "the only rule that we must respect", in the framework of the efforts that were being made "that we know may take a while to have their result."
It is significant that the release of both hostages took place in Niger, although the hostages were in Mali all this time, according to the intelligence services of the countries involved.
The Malian government has had terrible relations with France since Colonel Assimi Goïta came to power through a coup in May 2021 and his rapprochement with Russia.
Goïta promoted the arrival of some 1,400 mercenaries from the Russian company Wagner in Mali, despite the fact that the Malian authorities continue to deny it publicly, and ordered the expulsion of the French forces present in his country in the fight against jihadism since 2013.
Relations between Niger and France, as well as with the rest of the European Union and the West in general, are, on the contrary, excellent, as evidenced by the recent visit of the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, to Niamey.
In recent years, especially after the coups in Mali and Burkina Faso, Niger has become the most important partner for the EU's defense and migration policies in the Sahel.
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