French forces free Dutch hostage
French special forces unexpectedly found and freed a Dutch hostage during a dawn assault on al-Qa'ida fighters in the Sahara desert in northern Mali yesterday.
Sjaak Rijke (54) was kidnapped more than three years ago with two other westerners - a Swede and a South African - but there was no further news of them.
The commandos killed and captured several jihadis during a raid on a position near Tessalit, in Mali's remote northeast, but were "surprised" to discover a hostage, according to French president François Hollande.
He said Mr Rijke, a train driver abducted during a "dream trip" across the Sahara with his wife, was in as good health as possible after his years in captivity.
"It was a surprise for us and for our troops to be able to free a hostage," he told French TV. "We did not have any information about the presence of a hostage."
The commandos who freed him "neutralised the terrorist group" they were targeting, Mr Hollande said.
He presented the raid as part of a routine operation by French forces combating militants in west Africa.
France was successful in routing an al-Qa'ida-linked insurgency in Mali two years ago, but maintains a 3,000-strong force there.