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French and US hostages finally freed in West Africa

A US aid worker and French journalist who had been kidnapped by militants in West Africa have been released.

Jeffery Woodke and Olivier Dubois arrived at an airport in Niger’s capital, Niamey, on Monday.

Mr Woodke went missing in Niger in 2016, while Mr Dubois was held hostage in neighbouring Mali for nearly two years.

Their release was secured following efforts by authorities in Niger.

Speaking in Niamey, Mr Dubois, 48, said it was “amazing for me to be here, to be free”.

“I feel tired, but I’m fine,” he told journalists, smiling but visibly overwhelmed.

“I want to pay tribute to Niger for its skills in this delicate mission and pay tribute to France, to all those who have helped me to be here today.”

Niger Interior Minister Hamadou Souley said the pair had been freed after “several months of efforts” by Nigerien authorities, before being handed over to French and US officials.

It is not clear exactly how or when the men were released from the captors.

Mr Woodke’s release was announced days after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken travelled to Niger for an official visit, becoming the first top US diplomat to do so.

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said he was “relieved” and thanked the authorities in Niger for “bringing [Mr Woodke] home to all who miss and love him”.

“I thank so many across government who’ve worked tirelessly toward securing his freedom,” he added in a tweet.

Mr Woodke, who had served as a missionary and humanitarian aid worker in Niger for more than 30 years, was seized at gunpoint from his home in Agadez in October 2016.

Mr Dubois, meanwhile, began working as a freelance journalist in Mali in 2015 for Parisian daily newspaper Libération and news weekly Le Point.

He himself announced his abduction in a video posted on social media in May 2021, saying he had been kidnapped in the northern city of Gao by the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM) – the main jihadist alliance in the Sahel region of Africa which is linked to Al-Qaeda.

Following his release, Libération editor-in-chief Dov Alfon said: “We are deeply relieved and happy about this outcome.”

French President Emmanuel Macron thanked Niger in a tweet and said Mr Dubois was in “good health” after speaking to him.

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