French President Emmanuel Macron immediately hailed the release of Pétronin, the last French hostage in the world, and expressed his country’s continued support for Mali in its fight against terrorism.
“Sophie Pétronin is free. Held hostage for nearly four years in Mali, his release is a great relief, ”Macron wrote on Twitter.
“I think I haven’t realized yet. She’s on the plane, ”her son Sébastien Chadaud-Pétronin, who flew to Mali earlier this week, awaiting his release, told France Info.
The two Italian hostages are Pierluigi Maccalli, a priest and missionary who was taken to Niger in September 2018, near the border with Burkina Faso, and Nicola Chiacchio, who was reportedly a tourist when he was captured. Both appeared in a video in April 2020.
The Italian Foreign Ministry praised the collaboration between its intelligence services and government staff and the Malian authorities.
Thursday’s announcement came after days of uncertainty over the release of Pétronin and Cissé who were allegedly held by militants affiliated with Al Qaeda. Sources told media on Tuesday that Pétronin and Cissé had been released, but Pétronin’s family remained cautious.
Speculation about their release began to circulate in conflict-ravaged Sahel state over the weekend, when the government freed more than 100 suspected and convicted jihadists.
Pétronin was abducted by armed men on December 24, 2016, in the northern city of Gao, where she worked for a children’s charity.
Cissé, a 70-year-old former opposition leader and three-time presidential candidate, was kidnapped on March 25 while campaigning in parliamentary elections in his home region of Niafounké, central Mali.
The Malian government on Thursday gave no indication of the circumstances of the hostages’ release, nor provided information on the health of Pétronin or Cissé.
One of the intermediaries involved in the release negotiations, who requested anonymity, said the process “was not easy”.
Mali released more than 100 jihadist prisoners in the unstable center of the country over the weekend and in the northern city of Tessalit, a security official told AFP this week.
The rare mass release sparked immediate speculation on social media that the government was swapping prisoners for Pétronin and Cissé.
The Malian and French governments declined to comment on the case over the following days, despite intense media interest.
The prisoner’s release came with an interim government that was to rule Mali for 18 months before holding elections after a military junta overthrew President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta in August.
The kidnapping of former opposition leader Cisse was one of the factors that fueled the popular protests that led to Keita’s ouster due to his perceived inability to fight the jihadists and the insurgency. Islamist. Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed in the conflict, which has often taken on an ethnic dimension.
The intermediary involved in the negotiations told AFP on Thursday that the release of the jihadists was necessary.
“Yes, terrorists have been released,” he said. “We had to get the release.”
Several other hostages are still held by militant groups in the Sahel.