More than a hundred convicted or suspected jihadists were released in Mali over the weekend as part of negotiations for the release of a Malian personality and a French woman believed to be in the hands of the jihadists, he said. we learned Monday, October 5 from sources close to the negotiations.
Releases of this magnitude are very rare in Mali. Sophie Pétronin and Soumaïla Cissé, the two hostages whose release hangs in the balance according to these sources, are the last French hostage detained around the world for one and a political figure of national stature in Mali for the other.
“As part of negotiations to obtain the release of Soumaïla Cissé and Sophie Pétronin, more than a hundred jihadist prisoners were released this weekend on Malian territory”one of the mediators told AFP on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the case.
An official of the Malian security services confirmed this information. The prisoners were released in the sector of Niono (center) and in the region of Tessalit (north) to where they were taken by plane, he said. An elected official from Tessalit anonymously confirmed to AFP the arrival by plane of “Very many jihadist prisoners” and their release.
Sophie Pétronin, a French humanitarian, was kidnapped on December 24, 2016 by armed men in Gao (northern Mali), where she had lived for many years and headed a children’s aid organization. The last video where she appeared was received in mid-June 2018. She seemed very tired, her face emaciated, and appealed to French President Emmanuel Macron. In another video in November 2018, where she did not appear, her captors claimed that her health had deteriorated.
Dialogue or not with the jihadists
Soumaïla Cissé, former leader of the parliamentary opposition and runner-up on three occasions in the presidential election, was kidnapped on March 25 while campaigning for the legislative elections in the region of Timbuktu (north-west). In the absence of formal proof, suspicion hangs over the jihadist group of Amadou Koufa, active in central Mali and affiliated with Al-Qaeda.
This was an unprecedented kidnapping of a national figure of this stature, even in a country and security environment where many kidnappings have taken place for various reasons. His fate was one of the rallying cries of the months-long protest against former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta.
The release of these jihadists comes as Mali came under new rule, with the military coup that overthrew President Keïta on August 18. The military have just embarked on a transition that is supposed to bring civilians back to power after eighteen months. They retain a strong grip on the direction of the country.
Mali has been plunged into a major security crisis since the independence and jihadist insurgencies that left the north in 2012. A peace agreement was signed with the separatists. But the actions of jihadist groups affiliated with Al-Qaida or the Islamic State organization have spread to central Mali, as well as to neighboring countries, despite the deployment of French and international forces.
Mali, poor and landlocked, is also bloodied by intercommunal violence. The violence has claimed thousands of military and civilian lives. Two thirds of the territory escape the control of the central power.
Former President Keïta had long officially refused dialogue with the jihadists before breaking this dogma in February by saying he was ready to speak to some of them. However, previously unacknowledged contacts have existed for the release of hostages or the negotiation of a ceasefire. The military junta has not closed the door to discussions. She vowed to seek to obtain the release of Soumaïla Cissé.