American citizen held hostage for 6 years in West Africa has been freed

ByKylie Atwood, CNN, CNNWire
Monday, March 20, 2023
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NIAMEY, Niger -- An American aid worker who was kidnapped in Niger more than six years ago and held hostage by terrorists has been released, President Joe Biden's national security adviser Jake Sullivan tweeted on Monday.

"I'm gratified & relieved to see the release of U.S. hostage Jeff Woodke after over 6 years in captivity. The U.S. thanks Niger for its help in bringing him home to all who miss & love him. I thank so many across our government who've worked tirelessly toward securing his freedom," Sullivan tweeted.

Jeffery Woodke is now being offered support and transport, CNN reported. He was released outside of Niger in the Mali-Burkina Faso area, the official said.

"We are working closely with partners in the region and beyond to ensure safe transport and immediate access to the best medical and psychiatric support we can offer," a senior administration official told reporters on Monday. "Where exactly Jeff chooses to go will be a bit up to him."

The US government has been working on efforts to secure Woodke's release for years, relying on both intelligence and military resources, the official said. But ultimately the government of Niger was central to securing his release, the official said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Niger earlier this month.

"We have certainly been in touch with them about what a priority it is, for us to secure the release of Americans like my Jeff Woodke, and that's something that the Secretary confirmed when he was out there," the official said, adding that Niger would be able to share more details about the release.

On his trip, Blinken announced $150 million in new humanitarian aid for the region.

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"It will help provide life-saving support to refugees, asylum seekers, and others impacted by conflict and food insecurity in the region," Blinken said in a statement about the aid which will go to Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Mauritania.

Terror groups linked to al Qaeda and ISIS have been active in Niger for years.

Without saying which specific terrorist group held Woodke, the official pointed to a number of "intersecting overlapping terrorist networks in that part of West Africa." The official added that these terrorist networks see "kidnapping and hostage taking as part of their business model frankly, and as a source of revenue and support."

The official thanked the government of Niger which was involved in the efforts to secure his release, adding that the US did not pay any ransom to terrorists.

"There was no direct negotiation here between the US government and the terrorist organizations, it is worth making that clear. Certainly, we did not pay a ransom a concession to a terrorist organization here," the official said.

"Emerging as our best line of effort among many that we have tried over the years was working to see what a very good and capable and thankfully willing partner in Niger was able to deliver in their own engagement," the official added.

In addition to the release of Woodke, French journalist Olivier Dubois, who was abducted in 2021 in Mali, was freed Monday, according to a tweet by French President Emmanuel Macron.

Dubois was moved to Niger after his release.

"We feel joy and immense relief. Our colleague was held hostage for 711 days in Mali. His captivity was the longest for a French journalist held hostage since the Lebanon war," a statement by Reporters Without Borders said.

Dubois was kidnapped in the Gao region north of Mali by an al Qaeda-linked group known as the GSIM.

"We thank the French authorities for having implemented the necessary means to obtain his release. It is the honour of France not to let the hostages down and to allow them to regain their freedom," added the RWB statement.

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