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American aid worker freed after years held hostage in Africa

Jeffery Woodke was freed after being held hostage for over six years in West Africa. A French journalist was also released.
American aid worker freed after years held hostage in Africa
Posted at 12:55 PM, Mar 20, 2023

A humanitarian aid worker from the United States who was abducted by a militant group and held hostage for over six years in West Africa has been released, according to White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan. 

Jeffery Woodke was taken hostage in Niger in October 2016. It's unclear if he had been taken to a neighboring country. 

Details surrounding his release were not announced. 

Sullivan said in a tweet, "I’m gratified and relieved to see the release of U.S. hostage Jeff Woodke after over 6 years in captivity." 

He said, "The U.S. thanks Niger for its help in bringing him home to all who miss and love him. I thank so many across our government who’ve worked tirelessly toward securing his freedom."

Reports said he was released outside of Niger in an area between Mali and Burkina Faso in West Africa. 

U.S. officials confirmed that no ransom was paid to release the U.S. aid worker. In 2021, Woodke’s wife, Els Woodke, said her husband's captors had previously made a demand for millions of dollars in ransom money to secure her husband's release. 

Els Woodke said her husband was released and she was told that he was in Niger's capital city Niamey, according to U.S. government officials.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Niger this month to push for more engagement with the continent to counter China's influence there. 

Blinken announced $150 million in additional humanitarian aid for the region to "help provide life-saving support to refugees, asylum seekers, and others impacted by conflict and food insecurity in the region," he said of the funds. 

Officials in France confirmed that another hostage released around the same time was French journalist Olivier Dubois, who was abducted in Mali in 2021.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Dubois was freed on Monday. 

Reporters Without Borders said in a statement: “We feel joy and immense relief. Our colleague was held hostage for 711 days in Mali. His captivity was the longest for a French journalist held hostage since the Lebanon war.”

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