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Militants in Mali Free 4 Hostages After Authorities Releases Prisoners

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DAKAR — 4 hostages held by armed insurgents in Mali have been freed on Thursday, days after the nation’s newly-formed authorities launched round 200 prisoners, together with some suspected of being jihadists.

The 4 hostages launched included Soumaïla Cissé, a outstanding Malian politician, Sophie Pétronin, a French assist employee who had been held for nearly 4 years, and two Italians: Pierluigi Maccalli, a priest kidnapped in neighboring Niger in 2018, and Nicola Chiacchio, who was kidnapped final yr throughout a solo bicycle journey.

The federal government, which took energy in September following a navy coup, introduced the releases Thursday night. It stated that they had been secured because of the efforts of the nation’s intelligence companies, the armed forces, Mali’s companions and a particular disaster unit led by a former prime minister, nevertheless it didn’t present particulars of the situations below which the hostages have been launched.

The federal government’s launch of prisoners final weekend had led to hypothesis in Mali {that a} deal to free the hostages had been struck.

The liberating of the hostages was greeted with pleasure in Mali. Mr. Cissé, a 70-year-old former opposition chief who ran for president thrice, had been kidnapped by armed males in March as he was campaigning for legislative elections.

The releases have been additionally welcomed in France, the place Ms. Pétronin’s case has been carefully adopted.

President Emmanuel Macron of France stated in a press release that he was “immensely relieved” to study that Ms. Pétronin, 75, had been freed after the Malian authorities introduced that the hostages have been en path to the nation’s capital, Bamako.

“The president of the Republic particularly thanks the Malian authorities for this launch,” a press release issued by the French presidency stated. “He assures them of France’s total will to help Mali within the struggle it’s waging with perseverance towards terrorism.”

The French authorities stated they have been unaware of whether or not a ransom had been paid for the hostages, and gave few different particulars concerning the operation.

“It’s the Malian authorities who’ve totally dealt with this example and this liberation,” Gabriel Attal, the French authorities’s spokesman, informed the broadcaster France 2. “I’ve no data relating to compensation that may have been supplied for this launch.”

Over 5,000 French troopers are deployed in the Sahel region to struggle Islamist rebel teams. Final yr, two French soldiers were killed in a raid in Burkina Faso that freed 4 hostages, two of them French.

In Italy, Overseas Minister Luigi Di Maio welcomed the “excellent news” of the discharge. “Father Pier Luigi Maccalli and Nicola Chiacchio are lastly free and properly,” Mr. Di Maio stated in a tweet.

The Malian authorities stated the 4 hostages had been held by Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin, or the Group for the Assist of Islam and Muslims, a coalition of Al-Qaeda-aligned teams in Mali.

Mr. Cissé acquired a hero’s welcome at dwelling in Badalabougou, a Bamako neighborhood, the place he stood out of the sunroof of a automotive, waving at a crowd of supporters blowing vuvuzelas and waving cellphones.

“I spent six months below situations that, as you recognize very properly, have been extraordinarily tough, in nearly complete isolation,” Mr. Cissé informed Malian tv. “However I have to admit that I by no means skilled any violence, bodily or verbal.”

Mr. Cissé’s launch had been a key demand of protests towards President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta that escalated over the summer, earlier than he was overthrown within the military coup.

Ms. Pétronin, who ran a charity for malnourished kids in Mali, narrowly escaped a primary kidnapping within the jap metropolis of Gao in 2012 and fled the nation, however returned quickly after. She was then kidnapped in Gao on Dec. 24, 2016, and had been held ever since.

Ms. Pétronin returned to France on Friday and was welcomed by Mr. Macron.

“Deep down, I used to be sure that I’d come again,” Ms. Pétronin informed the French radio station RFI after she landed in Bamako on Thursday and was greeted with a hug by her son, Sébastien Chadaud-Pétronin. “I by no means gave up,” she stated.

Ms. Pétronin stated that after spending a while in France, she would return to Mali in some unspecified time in the future. “I’m going to come back again to see what’s occurring right here,” she stated, wanting frail however in good spirits.

Standing subsequent to her, her son sounded extra cautious. “Now we have to be cheap,” Mr. Chadaud-Pétronin stated. “You gained’t go wherever you wish to.”

Ruth Maclean reported from Dakar and Elian Peltier from London. Fixed Méheut contributed reporting from Paris and Cheick Amadou Diouara from Bamako, Mali.

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