Suspected terrorists release French aid worker, Malian politician

Bamako, Oct. 9, (dpa/GNA) – A French aid worker and a prominent Malian opposition leader held hostage by suspected Islamist terrorists have been released, the Malian presidency said on Thursday.

Sophie Petronin, 75, who was abducted in Mali's northern Gao region in late 2016 and opposition leader Soumaila Cisse had both been freed and were on their way to the capital Bamako, the presidency said on Twitter.

Cisse was kidnapped by an unknown armed group in March in northern Mali while on the campaign trail ahead of parliamentary elections.

He had been the losing candidate in the 2018 presidential election, won by Ibrahim Boubacar Keita who was deposed in a military coup in August.

French President Emmanuel Macron welcomed the releases, with his office saying he was "immensely relieved" by the freeing of Petronin.

Macron tweeted early Friday that he had spoken to her over the phone and it was a "joy" to know she was safe.

"I will welcome her back in France tomorrow," he wrote.
Two Italian men, Nicola Chiacchio and catholic priest Father Pier Luigi Maccalli, were also released on Tuesday, the Malian presidency said in a statement.

Italian foreign minister Luigi Di Maio thanked those who worked to bring the men home.
All four had been held by the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (GSIM), according to the statement.

The release "was obtained thanks to the combined efforts of the intelligence services, the armed forces, security forces and partners of Mali," the statement read.

The hostages were expected to land by plane in Bamako at about 10 pm (2200 GMT).
Mali has been plagued by terrorist groups for years, some of which have pledged allegiance to Islamic State and the al-Qaeda terrorist networks.

A United Nations peacekeeping mission is supporting the peace process in Mali after the north of the country temporarily fell into the hands of rebels in 2012, while France has stationed around 5,100 soldiers in the Sahel.

Macron assured Malian authorities of France's "complete willingness" to support them in "their determined fight against terrorism," his office said.