Swiss woman abducted by Mali gunmen in Timbuktu for second time

8th January 2016, Comments 0 comments

Gunmen have abducted a Swiss woman from her home in fabled Timbuktu in northern Mali, the second time she has been taken captive, officials told AFP on Friday.

Beatrice Stockly's capture is the first in the area since the kidnap and murder of two French journalists late November 2013 in Kidal.

"Beatrice, a Swiss citizen, was kidnapped in her home in Timbuktu by gunmen," a Timbuktu government official told AFP.

A Malian security source said armed men had gone to her home Thursday evening, "knocked on the door, she opened, and they left with her."

"There is no doubt that the perpetrators are jihadists," another Malian security source, adding that searches were on and that two people had been arrested in Timbuktu.

In Bern, the Swiss foreign ministry said it was "aware of the apparent kidnapping of a Swiss woman in Mali" and was in contact with her relatives and the local authorities.

The ministry said its crisis management centre had "formed a task force immediately after the kidnapping incident was announced," and that it was "committed to achieving the release of the Swiss citizen in good health."

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the capture of Stockly, a woman in her 40s who has lived in Timbuktu for years and was kidnapped a first time in April 2012 by Islamist fighters.

The social worker was said at the time to be the last Westerner living in the legendary desert city, which she refused to leave when it fell to Islamist Ansar Dine rebels on April 1.

Two weeks later, special forces from Burkina Faso swept into rebel-held northern Mali aboard a helicopter and whisked her to safety in a pre-arranged handover by Islamist rebels.

Stockly at the time appeared tired but in high spirits on the helicopter flying her to the Burkina capital Ouagadougou after Ansar Dine handed her over in Timbuktu.

"I am offering you freedom chocolates," she told the officials, security personnel and an AFP journalist on the helicopter, after fumbling through her leather satchel and, with a beaming smile, producing chocolate.

Ansar Dine's 2012 assault on Timbuktu had been backed by fighters from Al-Qaeda's north Africa branch, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

- 'High risk of kidnapping' -

At the time a loose alliance of Tuareg and Islamist rebels took advantage of the political chaos in Mali's capital that followed a March 22 army coup by capturing the country's vast desert north, including Timbuktu.

Stockly's capture that year brought to 24 the number of hostages seized in the Sahel region, 20 of them held by AQIM and another Islamist group, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO).

Almost all were subsequently released, but three foreign hostages seized, a South African, a Swede and a Romanian remain in captivity.

The Swiss foreign ministry stressed Friday that it since December 2009 had warned against travel to Mali "due to the high risk of kidnapping."

After Stockly's kidnapping in 2012, the ministry said it had discouraged her from another stay in Mali.

The jihadist fighters were chased from Mali's vast remote north in 2013 by a French-led military intervention.

A regional French counterterrorism force is still conducting operations in the area.

But entire swathes of the north remain beyond the reach of both the Malian army and foreign troops.

In November, 20 people, 14 of them foreigners, were killed in an attack claimed by jihadist groups on the Radisson Blu hotel in the capital, Bamako.

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© 2016 AFP

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