Freed hostage returns home, say Malian extremists killed Swiss woman

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A 75-year-old French aid worker held hostage for four years by Islamist extremists in Mali was reunited with her grandchildren in France on Friday, while relatives also welcomed into their home two Italians and a Malian politician released with her this week.They were released earlier this week, days after the Malian government freed nearly 200 Islamist activists in a prisoner exchange.

But the homecoming was stifled by news later Friday that a Swiss woman held captive by the same extremist group had been killed. The Swiss Foreign Ministry did not name the woman or provide further details except to say that she was killed about a month ago. He said he had received the information from the French authorities, who were informed of it by “the recently released French hostage”.

“It is with great sadness that I learned of the death of our fellow citizen,” Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis said in a statement. “I condemn this cruel act and I express my deepest sympathy to the loved ones. ”

Earlier Friday, 75-year-old aid worker Sophie Petronin stepped off a plane at Villacoublay military airport southwest of Paris, where she was greeted by French President Emmanuel Macron. Dressed in a white veil and a trench coat, Petronin held her grandsons in her arms.

Petronin kisses a relative on Friday. (Gonzalo Fuentes / Pool photo via AP)

“The French and I are happy to finally see you again, dear Sophie Petronin,” Macron tweeted. ” Welcome to the house. ”

Petronin met Macron for about an hour at the airport. They did not speak to the press.

Macron expressed his joy and relief at his release, thanked the Malian authorities and pledged that the French army would continue its fight against terrorism in the West African region.

At a moving meeting Thursday in the Malian capital, Petronin’s son Sébastien Chadaud cried as he described how he fought for his release, telling his mother: “I did my best”. She comforted him by saying, “You did what you could. ”

As her son kissed her head, she said she just wanted to spend time with him, “look at him and say, ‘Forgive me, I’ve caused you so much pain, so much trouble, so much. work to help me out. ”

Petronin stands alongside his son Sébastien Chadaud-Petronin as they address the media in Bamako, Mali on Friday. (Paul Longerie / Reuters)

Petronin was released along with the two Italians and a prominent Malian politician this week.

The Rev. Pierluigi Maccalli and Nicola Chiacchio arrived at Rome Ciampino Airport on Friday afternoon aboard an Italian government plane, greeted by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio.

Wearing face masks and clad in tracksuits, the pair greeted officials on the tarmac and then proceeded to a VIP lounge at the airport.

Former hostages, the Rev. Pier Luigi Maccalli, right, and Nicola Chiacchio land at Rome Ciampino Airport on Friday. (Angelo Carconi / Photo of the pool via AP)

Soumaila Cissé, Mali’s three-time presidential candidate, recounted months of difficult conditions before a precarious trip to their point of extraction, arriving in the Malian capital 48 hours after being released for the first time in the country’s remote north .

There was no immediate information about the other five foreign hostages that Islamic militants of Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslim (JNIM) are believed to still be holding. It was also unclear whether a ransom had been paid, although extremist groups in this region have long funded their operations with such payments from European governments.

Cisse, who was kidnapped earlier this year while campaigning for re-election as lawmaker, told Malian national television station ORTM that after months in captivity things had started to move quickly in the end of September.

He said Thursday evening he made a proof of life video on September 26 and earlier this week he was released. However, security conditions prevented them from reaching the northern town of Tessalit for two more days.

Soumaila Cissé arrives at his home in Bamako, Mali, Friday one day after his release. (Michele Cattani / AFP via Getty Images)

“I spent six months in … very difficult living conditions, in almost permanent isolation, but I must admit that I have not suffered any violence, neither physical nor verbal,” Cissé told the ORTM.

Among the Italian hostages was Maccalli, a Roman Catholic missionary priest from the African Missionary Society who was abducted in neighboring Niger in 2018.

In a tweet, the Italian Bishops’ Conference expressed “its gratitude to those who worked for the release as we continue to pray for those who are missing”.

Among the missing is Colombian nun Gloria Cecilia Narvaez Argoti, last seen in a 2018 video alongside Petronin.

In Maccalli’s hometown of Crema, a town east of Milan in northern Italy, bells were ringing in the cathedral to welcome the news of his release.

“I hope that the release of Fr. Gigi is a sign of promising hope for all the other prisoners of their faith and their struggle for truth, justice and reconciliation; and may she be a seed of peace and trust for Niger, he loves it so much, ”said Crema Bishop Daniele Gianotti.



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