U.S. aid worker and French journalist freed after years in captivity in West Africa
Jeff Woodke, an American aid worker who was held hostage by militants in Niger for more than six years, has been released, along with French journalist Olivier Dubois, who was kidnapped by militants in 2021 in neighboring Mali.
Woodke and Dubois appeared together before reporters in Niger's capital Niamey on Monday. Niger Interior Minister Hamadou Souley said their release came after "several months of efforts" by Nigerien authorities, the BBC reported.
Speaking in Washington, Secretary of State Antony Blinken thanked the government of Niger, along with members of the State Department, for their "tireless efforts" to free Woodke. Blinken did not provide further details on the circumstances surrounding the release.
The group Bring Jeffrey Woodke Home said Woodke's wife, Els, was informed that her husband was freed.
"Els has not yet heard from Jeff but she has been told he is in good condition," the group, which is managed by Woodke's friends and family, wrote in a statement on Monday morning.
"She has expressed her profound thanks to the many people in governments and others around the world who have worked so hard to see this result," the group added.
Woodke, who is originally from California, served as a missionary and a humanitarian aid worker in Niger for over 30 years. In Oct. 2016, a group of men drove to Woodke's home and held him at gunpoint, his wife said at a press conference in 2021. The men, believed to be militants, forced Woodke into a trunk and drove toward the border of Mali.
Woodke's release also comes a week after Blinken became the first secretary of state to visit Niger.
"I have no higher priority or focus than bringing home any unjustly detained American in the world," Blinken said on Monday morning. "We won't rest until they are all home and like Jeff, reunited with their families."
Blinken, who traveled to Niger as part of his Africa tour, announced last Thursday that the U.S. will provide $150 million in humanitarian assistance to support vulnerable populations in Niger and throughout the Sahel region.
Dubois, who was a correspondent for French news outlets, was kidnapped in Gao, Mali, in April 2021 by a group affiliated with al-Qaida, the Committee to Protect Journalists previously reported.
On Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron wrote on Twitter that Dubois was in good health, describing it a great relief for his family, fellow journalists and the country.
Dubois told reporters 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 its skills in this delicate mission and pay tribute to France, to all those who have helped me to be here today," he said.
NPR's Michele Kelemen contributed reporting.
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