Three Red Cross workers captured in northeastern Mali last weekend by Islamist group Ansar Dine have been freed, the International Committee of the Red Cross said Friday.
“The best news we could get: our three colleagues in Mali are free, safe and sound,” ICRC head Peter Maurer said on Twitter, with the news confirmed by the aid group’s spokesman in Bamako, Valery Mbaoh Nana.
“Our colleagues have been set free without conditions,” Mbaoh Nana told AFP in Bamako.
“We are extremely pleased with this happy outcome.”
The three aid workers, who were not named, were freed in Kidal, capital of the restive region of the same name, where they were kidnapped on April 16.
They had been on mission in the north of the region when they were taken hostage, Mbaoh Nana said.
Ansar Dine, one of several jihadist groups roaming Mali’s north, on Thursday claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.
“We have three people who work for the Red Cross. We want Barkhane (French forces) to free Miyatene Ag Mayaris before we will release them,” Nourredine Ag Mohamed, a senior militant from the group, told AFP.
Multiple sources say Miyatene Ag Mayaris, a local guide recruited to work for the ICRC, was arrested by French forces.
Previously been suspected of being an Ansar Dine militant, it remains unclear whether he has been freed.
“If we managed to secure the release today, it is thanks to the processes set off by the ICRC through its contacts in northern Mali, including religious, community and administrative leaders. All of the ICRC’s efforts and contacts were mobilised in order to secure this result,” Mbaoh Nana said.
France’s Operation Barkhane, launched in 2014, has seen 3,500 soldiers deployed across five countries in the Sahel region to maintain cross-border security following the ousting of jihadists from key towns in Mali’s north.
It is the successor to a military intervention that freed Mali’s vast, desolate north from the control of Tuareg-led rebels who allied with jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda in 2012.
A protest against foreign forces including Barkhane left one demonstrator dead on Monday, underlining simmering tensions between the local population and UN and French troops based in the area.