Mali’s presidential spokesman say two hostages freed by al-Qaida-linked militants are now on a plane flying to the capital of Bamako
BAMAKO, Mali — Malis’s presidency confirmed Thursday that prominent Malian politician Soumaila Cisse and French aid worker Sophie Petronin are aboard a flight to the capital, Bamako, after being freed by al-Qaida-linked militants.
The flight took off just before 7 p.m. local time (1900 GMT) from the northern town of Tessalit and was expected to arrive about 2 1/2 hours later, presidential spokesman Adam Thiam said.
Petronin, 75, who was helping orphans at the time of her abduction, had been held by Islamic extremists since December 2016. Cisse, 70, was kidnapped back in March while campaigning near Timbuktu.
The French government Twitter account shared the news, adding: “AT LAST!”
The hostages’ release followed the freeing by Malian authorities of nearly 200 Jihadist prisoners over the weekend, which had fueled speculation that a prisoner exchange was imminent.
There was no immediate information on whether a ransom was paid. Extremist groups in the Sahel have long funded their organizations through kidnappings.
It also was not immediately known whether any other Western hostages were among the group. The al-Qaida-linked group known as JNIM and its associates were believed to be holding at least seven others foreigners in addition to Petronin.
They include Italians Pierluigi Maccalli and Nicola Ciacco, Australian doctor Ken Elliott, Colombian nun Gloria Cecilia Narváez Argoti, South African national Christo Bothma, Swiss national Beatrice Stockly and Romanian citizen Julian Ghergut.
Sylvie Corbet in Paris and Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal, contributed.