FILE - This Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018 file photo released by the Union for the Republic and Democracy party shows then opposition presidential candidate Soumaila Cisse casting his ballot during the presidential second round election in Niafunke, Mali.
Boubacar Sada Sissoko/Union for the Republic and Democracy via AP, File
Mali: 3 European hostages, 1 Malian politician freed
Published 1:39 PDT, Thu October 8, 2020
BAMAKO, Mali — The Malian government confirmed late Thursday that a prominent politician and three European hostages were en route to the capital after being freed by Islamic extremists linked to al-Qaida.
While relatives of Soumaila Cisse and French aid worker Sophie Petronin had been notified of their release on Tuesday, news of the release of two Italian hostages came only in a Malian government statement once they were aboard the flight.
The Rev. Pierluigi Maccalli is a Roman Catholic missionary priest from the African Missionary Society (SMA) who was kidnapped in September 2018 from his Bomoanga parish in Niamey, Niger, according to the Avvenire newspaper of the Italian bishops conference.
There has been no information about Nicola Ciacco’s kidnapping. The two were believed to be held by same extremists.
The flight took off just before 7 p.m. local time (1900 GMT) from the northern town of Tessalit and was expected to arrive about 2 1/2 hours later, presidential spokesman Adam Thiam said.
The hostages’ release followed the freeing by Malian authorities of nearly 200 jihadist prisoners over the weekend, which had fueled speculation that a prisoner exchange was imminent.
There was no immediate information on whether a ransom was paid. Extremist groups in the Sahel have long funded their organizations through kidnappings.
The al-Qaida-linked group known as JNIM and its associates are also believed to be holding Australian doctor Ken Elliott, Colombian nun Gloria Cecilia Narváez Argoti, South African national Christo Bothma, Swiss national Beatrice Stockly and Romanian citizen Julian Ghergut.
In March, extremists ambushed Cisse’s vehicle while he and his entourage were campaigning in northern Mali. The three-time presidential candidate was later re-elected to his parliament seat while in captivity.
The only proof that he was still alive was a handwritten letter delivered in August. Negotiations for his release had appeared to stall after a military coup overthrew democratically-elected President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who beat Cisse in the 2013 and 2018 elections.
While a transitional civilian government has been chosen, new elections are being organized with a 2022 deadline, providing a possible new political avenue for Cisse.
Associated Press writers Nicole Winfield in Rome; Sylvie Corbet in Paris and Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal, contributed.
— Baba Ahmed, The Associated Press
$9.99 for 8 slices of classic pizza or a whole pizza (Hawaiian, Pepperoni, Veggie)
FreshSlice - Near Seafair Centre
Use any of our home staging service and get a second month rental for free!