Freed Dutch hostage awaited in Mali capital

7th April 2015, Comments 0 comments

A Dutch hostage freed after being held by Al-Qaeda-linked extremists in Mali for more than three years was due to arrive in the capital Bamako on Tuesday, Dutch and Malian diplomatic sources said.

Train driver Sjaak Rijke, abducted while on holiday in Timbuktu in November 2011, was freed in a raid on Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) by French special forces on Monday.

"The former hostage is expected in Bamako today," a source in the Malian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, adding that he would be travelling from Gao, the largest city in the north Mali.

"An official delegation will welcome him at the airport," the source added.

No timetable has been given for Rijke's arrival, but President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita is due to receive the freed hostage when he reaches Bamako, a presidential source told AFP.

Dutch media, quoting foreign ministry officials, said Rijke was due to return to the Netherlands on Tuesday evening, although the ministry would not officially confirm this.

French President Francois Hollande said on Monday Rijke had been transported to a safe location and that a number of suspected jihadists were killed during the operation.

He said the French soldiers were not aware of the hostage's location before the raid against the extremists near Tessalit in Mali's far north, close to the border with Algeria.

The president's account appeared to be contradicted by senior French general Gregoire de Saint-Quentin, the head of special operations, who described a meticulously planned raid involving 20 elite soldiers.

A video shot after his release showed a relaxed Rijke, smiling as he shared a meal with French soldiers, a marked contrast to the gaunt bearded figure in a video released by his kidnappers five months ago.

Dutch media said his wife, Tilly Kettner, had left the Netherlands for Bamako on Monday to be reunited with her husband.

Gunmen had stormed into Rijke's hotel in Timbuktu in 2011, capturing him as well as a South African and a Swede, both of whom are still being held.

Kettner, also at the hotel at the time, managed to escape.

Rijke, who was 51 when he was kidnapped, and his wife were described in the Dutch media as seasoned travellers who were on a "dream trip" to cross the Sahara.

Mali's vast desert north is riven by ethnic rivalries and an Islamist insurgency.

Jihadists linked to Al-Qaeda controlled the region for more than nine months in 2012 until they were routed by a French-led military intervention, but extremist fighters remain active.

Mali is also struggling with ethnic Tuareg militants fighting the army over northern territory they claim as their homeland.

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© 2015 AFP

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