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Friday, April 23, 2021

Al-Qaida releases 3 kidnapped foreigners, one still missing

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BAMAKO, Mali — Al-Qaida-linked extremists have released a politician and two other foreign hostages and say they are free to resume negotiations to free a Chadian diplomat still held by the extremists.

Mali’s presidential guard confirmed the release to The Associated Press on Saturday.

The northern city of Gao was put on red alert in anticipation of further kidnappings as police detained 30 people linked to extremist groups including al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.

The Malian politician and the Chadian diplomat were not identified, nor were details on when or where they were freed. However, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb on Thursday had said that the rebels’ demands had been met.

Al-Qaida abducted the politician and the diplomat from a gas station in neighboring Niger in July, and before that, an Italian aid worker was seized from a house in Mali in August.

With their hostage release, the extremists said they will now focus on freeing the diplomat and ex-employee of the French aid agency Action Against Hunger.

The two French aid workers were held by the al-Qaida-linked group Ansar Dine, which is linked to the extremists. They were released more than a year ago, but because their life was threatened, French President Emmanuel Macron did not raise the issue with Mali’s leader Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

French authorities said late last month that the man taken is now free and in custody, the French Foreign Ministry confirmed in a statement. It gave no other details, saying it wanted to respect the detainee’s “privacy.”

France and others are concerned that any freed hostage could provide valuable intelligence on al-Qaida’s activities and activities of the Islamic State group, another extremist group active in northern Mali.

French troops and U.N. peacekeepers have been deployed to Mali since last year to fight the extremists, who have carried out numerous attacks and kidnappings, including in this year a pair of attacks that killed at least 30 soldiers.

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Gambrell reported from Dakar, Senegal.

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