Tuesday 20 February 2018

French forces free Dutch hostage

David Chazan Paris

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.

Irish Independent

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