WASHINGTON — An American aid worker abducted by militants more than six years ago in West Africa has been freed, his wife and U.S. officials said on Monday, but the circumstances of his release were not immediately clear.

The aid worker, Jeffery Woodke, was kidnapped in Niger in October 2016 and then was believed to have been taken to neighboring Mali.

His wife, Els Woodke, of McKinleyville, Calif., said the U.S. government had notified her that her husband had been freed. She was told that he was in Niamey, the capital of Niger, and later spoke with him for an hour.

“He is safe,” she said in a phone interview. After she spoke with him, Ms. Woodke said, he was in “great spirits.”

A U.S. official said that Mr. Woodke, 62, was in Niamey and that he was being medically evaluated. Another senior administration official briefing reporters confirmed Mr. Woodke’s release and said the United States had not paid a ransom or made other concessions. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity as part of standard rules for security briefings.

Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, thanked Niger in a Twitter message “for its help in bringing him home.”

A French security official confirmed that another hostage had also been released: Olivier Dubois, a French journalist who went missing in Mali in April 2021 and was later seen in a hostage video issued by a Qaeda affiliate there.

Mr. Woodke’s release ends an arduous ordeal in which U.S. officials believed at times that a dangerous military operation would have been required to free him. There is no indication that the United States mounted such a rescue or was involved in the release of the two men.

But Mr. Woodke’s kidnapping played a role in a fatal ambush of American troops in West Africa.

In October 2017, U.S. soldiers raced to a location in the scrubland of Niger after intelligence officials intercepted a signal from the cellphone of a terrorist known as Doundoun Cheffou, a senior lieutenant of a former affiliate of Al Qaeda that had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

Mr. Cheffou was being tracked by American intelligence agencies because of his seniority in the terrorist group and because he was suspected of having played a role in Mr. Woodke’s kidnapping.

What we consider before using anonymous sources. Do the sources know the information? What’s their motivation for telling us? Have they proved reliable in the past? Can we corroborate the information? Even with these questions satisfied, The Times uses anonymous sources as a last resort. The reporter and at least one editor know the identity of the source.

The nighttime raid failed to find Mr. Cheffou, but hours later four of the Americans were killed in an ambush near the village of Tongo Tongo.

The senior administration official who briefed reporters said that while Mr. Woodke was captured in Niger, he appeared to have been taken across its borders. The official said that Mr. Woodke was released outside Niger, in an area to the west that includes Mali and Burkina Faso.

The official did not specify what organization had taken Mr. Woodke, calling it a hostage-taking “network.”

The official added that another prisoner captured in Niger, whom the official did not name, was released by the same network about six months ago

Efforts to release Mr. Woodke had been underway for a long time, the official said, and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, who stopped in Niger during a visit to Africa last week, had “confirmed” the release while there.

The official said that France — which is Niger’s former colonial ruler and maintains ties with its government — had also played an important role in securing Mr. Woodke’s release.

Mr. Dubois told reporters in Niger that “it’s huge for me to be here, to be free,” and thanked the governments of France and Niger.

Mr. Dubois, 48, was the only known French citizen to be held hostage in Africa. He was kidnapped on April 8, 2021, in the city of Gao, nearly 600 miles northeast of Mali’s capital, Bamako, where he was based, as he was scheduled to interview a jihadist leader. Weeks later, he confirmed his kidnapping in a 21-second clip circulated on social media.

For nearly two years, Mr. Dubois’ family, French journalists and human rights defenders campaigned for his release and regularly broadcast messages on Radio France International, a state-owned station with a significant following in French-speaking African countries. Mr. Dubois said he was able to listen to the messages even after the Malian military junta suspended the radio station amid a fallout with the French government.

Rukmini Callimachi and Michael Crowley contributed reporting.

Source link

By admin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *