US aid worker and French journalist released after years in West Africa

Jeff Woodke, an American aid worker who was held hostage by militants in Niger for over six years, has been released along with French journalist Olivier Dubois, who was kidnapped by militants in 2021 in neighboring Mali.

Woodk and Dubois appeared before reporters together in Niger’s capital Niamey on Monday. Niger’s Interior Minister Hamado Sulei said their release came after “several months of effort” by the Nigerian authorities, the BBC reported.

Speaking in Washington, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken thanked the government of Niger, along with State Department officials, for their “tireless efforts” to free Woodk. Blinken did not provide further details about the circumstances of the release.

The Bring Jeffrey Woodk Home group reported that Woodk’s wife, Els, had been informed of her husband’s release.

“Els hasn’t heard from Jeff yet, but she’s been told he’s in good shape,” the group, run by Woodke’s friends and family, said in a statement Monday morning.

“She expressed her deep gratitude to the many people in governments and other people around the world who worked so hard to see this result,” the group added.

Woodk, originally from California, served as a missionary and humanitarian worker in Niger for over 30 years. In October 2016, a group of men drove up to Woodk’s home and held him at gunpoint, his wife said at a press conference in 2021. Men, presumably militants, pushed Woodk into the trunk and drove towards the border with Mali.

Woodke’s release also came a week after Blinken became the first secretary of state to visit Niger.

“I have no higher priority or goal than bringing home any unjustly detained American in the world,” Blinken said Monday morning. “We won’t rest until they’re all home and, like Jeff, reunited with their families.”

Blinken, who visited Niger as part of his tour of Africa, announced Last Thursday, the US will provide $150 million in humanitarian aid to support vulnerable people in Niger and throughout the Sahel region.

Dubois, who was a correspondent for French news outlets, was abducted in Gao, Mali, in April 2021 by an al-Qaeda-linked group, the Committee to Protect Journalists previously reported.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday wrote on Twitter that Dubois is in good health, calling it a great relief to his family, fellow journalists and the country.

Dubois told reporters that “it was amazing for me to be here, to be free,” adding: “I feel tired, but I’m fine,” according to the BBC.

“I want to pay tribute to Niger for his excellence in this delicate mission and pay tribute to France, to all those who helped me to be here today,” he said.

Michelle Kelemen of NPR provided the coverage.

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