Sat, 10 Jun 2023

French journalist Olivier Dubois made an emotional return home on Tuesday following nearly two years in captivity in the Sahel. He was met by family members and President Emmanuel Macron on the tarmac of Villacoublay air base outside Paris.

Dubois was kidnapped in Mali two years ago by members of the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM).

"I feel tired but I'm fine," he said as he disembarked at Niamey airport, smiling and obvously delighted to be free.

"It's amazing to be here, to be free," he said.

"I have to thank the authorities in Niger for the way they have managed a difficult task, and also thank France and all the others who have made it possible for me to be here today.

He specifically mentioned Radio France Internationale for its efforts in broadcasting monthly messages of support from members of Dubois' family.

American aid worker Jeffery Woodke, who had been in captivity since October 2016, needed the support of a cane as he stood beside Dubois. Woodke is 61. The two men travelled on the same plane.

Details about their release remain unclear.

Immense relief

At the airport outside Niger's capital, Interior Minister Hamadou Souley said that the men had been found safe and sound in Niger, and would be handed over to the French and US authorities.

The French ambassador in Niamey, Sylvain Itte, thanked the Niger government for having "actively contributed to this happy conclusion".

French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his "tremendous relief" and said that Dubois will be "soon back in France".

"Much gratitude to Niger for this release," Macron wrote on Twitter, after talking on the phone with the journalist, who arrived at Niamey airport on Monday.

"I have just spoken with Olivier Dubois: he is in good health. Immense relief for the Nation, for his relatives and his fellow journalists", he tweeted.

The French national assembly, paused in its vote of no confidence debate to pay hommage to Dubois, welcoming the news with a loud round of applause.

'The nightmare is over'

"It's unbelievable," Olivier Dubois' sister Canele Bernard told reporters. "This is something we have been waiting for for two years. The nightmare is over for Olivier and his family. He can start his life again."

The watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said there was "immense relief" at Dubois' release.

"We did get several pieces of reassuring news in recent months and very recently, too -- he seemed in good shape but the length of his captivity worried us," said RSF Secretary Christophe Deloire.

48 year-old Dubois had been living and working as a freelance journalist in Mali since 2015. He was a frequent contributor to the daily newspaper Liberation and magazines Le Point and Jeune Afrique.

He was abducted in the city of Gao in northern Mali on 8 April 2021 by the so-called Support Group for Islam and Muslims, an Al-Qaeda affiliate regarded as the principal jihadist alliance in the southern Sahara.

Dubois was believed to be the only French citizen held hostage by a non-state actor following the release in Mali of aid worker Sophie Petronin in 2020.

The country, along with neighbours Niger and Burkina Faso, faces an on-going jihadist insurgency.

Originally published on RFI

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