American aid worker and French journalist freed from captivity in Africa

American aid worker Jeffery Woodke, center, and French journalist Olivier Dubois

American aid worker Jeffery Woodke, who was held hostage by militants in West Africa for six years, and French journalist Olivier Dubois, who spent nearly two years in captivity in the Sahel, have been freed, but officials shared little about the identity of the group that held them.

Woodke, a 61-year-old Christian aid worker, was abducted in Niger in 2016, and it is believed that he was later taken to Mali.

The French journalist and US aid worker were released in the Mali-Burkina Faso area, and they arrived in Niamey, the capital of Niger, on Monday after being freed. After undergoing a medical evaluation, Woodke will return home to be reunited with his family, said Robert Klamser, who directs a crisis consulting firm that worked on the Woodke case.

Dubois, 48, made an emotional return home on Tuesday following greeted by his family and President Emmanuel Macron at an airport near Paris.

He said in a video released by his captors that he was taken by the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM), the main jihadist alliance in the Sahel, which is linked to Al-Qaeda.

Details of the two men’s release remain unclear, although Woodke on Monday thanked the “Nigerien, American and French governments”, telling journalists: “Vive la France.”

White House spokesman John Kirby said the effort to locate and recover Woodke was a “team effort” involving U.S. military officials, diplomats, federal law enforcement and the intelligence community working with the French government, while President Biden said the United States “will continue our work to bring home all Americans held hostage or unjustly detained.”

Woodke had lived in Niger full-time for more than 15 years when armed men appeared at his home in Abalak in October 2016, killing his guards and abducting him, according to his wife, Els Woodke, who works as a teacher’s aide in the United States and did not have enough money to pay a ransom.

The California native, now 61, had spent about three decades living part- or full-time in Niger, where his work included construction of wells and schools, his wife said.

The Woodkes’ adult sons, Matthew and Robert, spoke in a video showed at Wednesday’s news conference.

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