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02 July 2017

Hostages shown in al-Qaeda Mali video as Macron flies in

Sophie PetroninImage copyright
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French hostage Sophie Petronin was abducted from Gao in December

A Mali-based al-Qaeda affiliate has released a video of six foreign hostages ahead of a visit by French President Emmanuel Macron to the country.

They include a French NGO worker, an elderly Australian surgeon and a Colombian nun.

No “genuine” negotiations to release them have taken place, the video says.

Mr Macron is in Mali to consolidate western backing for a regional force against the militants.

Among the hostages seen in the footage is Sophie Petronin, who was abducted last December in the town of Gao, where she ran an NGO helping malnourished children.

The video’s narrator said Ms Petronin was hoping that Mr Macron would help return her to her family.

Speaking in Mali’s capital Bamako, Mr Macron said France and the “Sahel G5” countries – Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania and Niger – had to work together to eradicate “terrorists, thugs and murderers”.

He said France would “put all our energy towards eradicating” those who had kidnapped Ms Petronin.

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Mr McGown has been held since 2011

The video also shows South African hostage Stephen McGown asking when his ordeal will come to an end.

“Now we’re making a new video, but I don’t know what to say. It’s all been said in the past. It’s all been said in previous videos I’ve made,” he says.


Analysis – Thomas Fessy, BBC West Africa Correspondent

The release of this video will lead many to believe that it was timed to coincide with a meeting of West African leaders and France’s president in Mali on Sunday.

It is a reminder that al-Qaeda affiliates remain the main jihadist threat across the region. Some of the hostages were abducted a few years ago while others more recently – keeping hostages that long and seizing new ones show how much al-Qaeda relies on ransom money to operate.

The deployment of yet another force, discussed on Sunday, is part of a huge security build-up in the Sahel, where foreign military presence has increased in the last few years.

But observers say political solutions are also needed across the impoverished region, where a lack of infrastructure and opportunities allows jihadist groups to thrive.


Mr McGown was kidnapped from a hotel in Timbuktu in 2011 along with two others, Swede Johan Gustafsson – who was released last month – and Dutchman Sjaak Rijke – who was freed by French special forces in 2015.

Also shown is Australian Ken Elliott, who is in his 80s. He was abducted in January 2015 in Djibo with his wife Jocelyn, where the couple had been running the town’s only medical facilities. Jocelyn was released in February 2016.

“To my family I just want to say again I love you all,” he says.

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Media captionDicko Seydou from Djibo tells BBC World News about Dr Ken Elliott’s work

The others are Romanian mineworker Iulian Ghergut, who says he was abducted in Burkina Faso in April 2015, Swiss missionary Beatrice Stockly, kidnapped in Mali in January 2016, and Colombian nun Gloria Argoti, seized in Mali in February.

The 17-minute video was released by a group calling itself the Group to Support Islam and Muslims, formed in early March as a result of a merger between Mali-based jihadist group Ansar Dine, al-Mourabitoun, and the Sahara branch of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

In November the NGO Gift of the Givers said AQIM elders had agreed to release Mr McGown but younger members did not want to.

Mali’s security has gradually worsened since 2013, when French forces repelled allied Islamist and Tuareg rebel fighters who had seized control of much of the north.

Mr Macron wants greater support for the Sahel G5, who are setting up a 5,000-strong force based in Sévaré in central Mali to fight rising militant attacks.

He hopes to help raise funds for the force – so far, the EU has pledged only €50m (£44m; $57m), while Mali’s foreign minister has estimated that the force would cost closer to €400m.

Mr Macron said attempts to combat terrorism needed to be accompanied by parallel efforts to improve development in the region, including fighting climate change and improving governance.

There are 4,000 French troops and 12,000 UN peacekeepers in the region.

Last month, five people – soldiers from Portugal and Mali, a Malian woman working for the EU mission and civilians from China and Gabon – were killed when gunmen from an al-Qaeda-linked group stormed a tourist resort near the capital Bamako.

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