PARIS – French special forces on Monday freed a Dutchman held hostage since being kidnapped in 2011 by extremists in Mali, the military said. There was no immediate word on the fate of two men abducted at the same time.
The military said the rescue of Sjaak Rijke took place at 5 a.m. Monday in far northern Mali, and that several militants were captured. Monday's statement did not identify who was holding Rijke, but the Dutchman appeared in a video posted in November by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Some 3,000 French forces are taking part in the mission to stabilize Mali, which was overrun by Al Qaeda-linked Islamic extremists until French troops came to the aid of Malian soldiers in January 2013.
Rijke was abducted by extremists in November 2011 from a hostel in Timbuktu along with Swede Johan Gustafsson and South African Stephen Malcolm, who holds dual British citizenship. A German died in the attack. Officials in France and the Netherlands did not say whether there was anty news of Gustafsson or Malcolm.
France said Rijke was safely evacuated to a French operating base in Tassalit.
Hostage-taking has proved to be a lucrative business in Mali, other Sahel countries and further afield in the war zone of Syria and Iraq.
Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders said Rijke is being cared for by Dutch embassy staff and troops in Mali, and is doing well under the circumstances.
"This is fantastic news for Sjaak and his family. I'm happy and relieved that this terrible period of uncertainty and sadness has been brought to an end," Koenders said.