Extremists Free a Leading Malian Politician and Three Other Hostages

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BAMAKO, Mali — A outstanding Malian politician and three European hostages freed by Al Qaida-linked Islamic extremists arrived in Mali’s capital late Thursday the place they had been greeted by members of the family and supporters.

The politician, Soumaila Cisse, a three-time presidential candidate, was greeted by his son. The French humanitarian Sophie Petronin, who had been kidnapped 4 years in the past whereas serving to orphans in northern Mali, arrived in a flowing white conventional costume.

While their family members had been notified of their launch on Tuesday, information that two Italian hostages additionally had been freed got here solely late Thursday in a authorities assertion as soon as the flight had left northern Mali.

“Father Pierluigi Maccalli and Nicola Chiacchio, kidnapped in Africa between 2018 and 2019, are free and are returning to Italy!” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of Italy tweeted.

Father Maccalli, a Roman Catholic priest from the African Missionary Society, was kidnapped from his parish in Niamey, Niger, in line with the Avvenire newspaper of the Italian bishops convention.

Mr. Chiacchio was taken from central Mali in 2019, in line with Menastream, an unbiased consultancy specializing within the Sahel and North Africa. The two had been believed to be held by the identical extremists after a video was launched of them collectively in April.

Mr. Cisse was re-elected to his parliament seat whereas in captivity and has now emerged because the front-runner for the 2022 election. Extremists had ambushed his automobile in March whereas he and his entourage had been campaigning in northern Mali.

Negotiations for Mr. Cisse’s launch had appeared to stall after an Aug. 18 army coup overthrew the democratically elected president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who defeated Mr. Cisse in each the 2013 and 2018 elections.

The army junta has handed over energy to a transitional authorities now tasked with organizing elections, although the junta’s chief nonetheless serves as vp.

The hostages’ launch got here simply days after Malian authorities freed almost 200 jihadist prisoners over the weekend, which had fueled hypothesis {that a} prisoner trade was imminent.

There was no instant data on whether or not a ransom was paid. Extremist teams within the Sahel have lengthy funded their organizations by means of kidnappings.

The Al Qaida-linked group, often called JNIM, and its associates are believed to be nonetheless holding the Australian physician Ken Elliott and the Colombian nun Gloria Cecilia Narváez Argoti. In addition, Christo Bothma of South Africa, Beatrice Stockly of Switzerland and Julian Ghergut of Romania are additionally nonetheless being held.

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