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Freed Sahel hostage arrives home in France to emotional welcome

#Freed #Sahel #hostage #arrives #home #France #emotional

French journalist Olivier Dubois made an emotional return home on Tuesday following nearly two years in captivity in the Sahel, with President Emmanuel Macron greeting him at an airport near Paris.

The 48-year-old stepped down from the plane and made a beeline to hug family members waiting for him on the tarmac of Villacoublay air base.

Macron embraced him in front of the cameras.

Dubois, 48, was kidnapped in Mali on April 8, 2021.

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.

He and a US aid worker — 61-year-old Jeffery Woodke, who was seized in southwest Niger in October 2016 — arrived in the Niger capital, Niamey, on Monday after being freed.

“I feel tired but I’m fine,” Dubois told journalists after his arrival on Monday.

“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.”

Dubois had been living in Mali since 2015 and freelancing for the French daily Liberation when he was seized.

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

Niger Interior Minister Hamadou Souley, who was at Niamey airport, said: “The hostages were picked up safe and sound by the Nigerien authorities before being handed over to the French and American authorities.”

Dubois is believed to have been the only French citizen held hostage by a non-state actor following the release in Mali of aid worker Sophie Petronin in 2020.

The journalist’s sister Canele Bernard on Monday told AFP: “It’s just incredible, it’s something that we’ve been hoping for for two years.”

“The nightmare is over for him and for his family. He will be able to get on with living, although it will be hard for him to get over it.”

Paris considers six citizens officially confirmed to be held behind bars in Iran as hostages of a state.

At the Niamey airport on Monday, Woodke was at Dubois’ side, leaning on a stick.

He was seized at gunpoint from his home in Abalak in the Tahoua region of southwestern Niger, about 350 kilometres (220 miles) from Niamey.

The 61-year-old had served as a missionary and humanitarian aid worker in Niger for 32 years, according to a supporters’ website.

US President Joe Biden welcomed the freeing of Woodke and thanked the government of Niger, calling it “a critical partner in helping to secure his release.”

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