Sophie Pétronin Hopes Rise For Release Of French Hostage In Mali

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Sophie Pétronin Hopes Rise For Release Of French Hostage In Mali

Sophie Pétronin, 75, was abducted in Mali in December 2016 and after almost four years in detention is known as the last French hostage in the world.

Now, there are reports of her imminent release, alongside a veteran Malian politician, as part of a prisoner swap for more than 100 jihadists.

Charity worker Ms Pétronin had already evaded abduction once in disguise.

Meanwhile, ex-opposition leader and former presidential candidate Soumaïla Cissé, 70, was kidnapped in March.

Mali militant group JNIM, which is affiliated to al-Qaeda, is believed to be behind their abductions.

What do we know?

Authorities have been working on their release for months and are reportedly wary of any last-minute hitches. In August, Malian president Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta was overthrown by a military junta and little is known of what happened to the talks after the coup.

“It’s too soon to celebrate,” Ms Pétronin’s son Sébastien Chadaud warned. “We’ve already lived through moments like this for four years.”

Mr Chadaud was on his way to the Malian capital, Bamako, a relative said on Tuesday. “It’s really good news,” Lionel Granouillac told RTL radio.

Malian reports say about 100 jihadists detained by the military in recent operations were freed in recent days as part of a negotiated prisoner swap.

They later appeared in the northern Mali town of Tessalit, and local reports suggested both Sophie Pétronin and Soumaïla Cissé had been held in that area. Militant group JNIM claimed 206 of its prisoners had been released, Mali news website Nouvel Horizon reports.

Who is Sophie Pétronin?

Known as France’s last hostage held by jihadist militants, Sophie Pétronin’s cause has been almost forgotten, despite her family’s attempts to campaign for her release.

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Abducted on Christmas Eve 2016 in the northern city of Gao, she was well known locally for her work helping orphans and other children suffering from malnutrition.

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She had been running Swiss charity Association Aid to Gao since 2004 and was an expert in guinea-worm disease, which spread through contaminated water in northern Mali.

When Tuareg rebels backed by Islamists seized Gao as unrest spread in Mali in 2012, seven Algerian diplomats were abducted and the Algerian consul gave her protection until the building came under attack. She fled through a back door and was spirited out of Mali into Algeria wearing long robes.

“We crossed the desert in just one night, when normally it takes two days,” she told Le Dauphiné Libéré newspaper in May 2012. “I checked the speedometer, we were going at 130km/h (80mph).

Sophie Pétronin Hopes Rise For Release Of French Hostage In Mali

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