The fate of the last French hostage in the world, Sophie Pétronin, still surrounded by uncertainty

Sébastien Chadaud, the son of French hostage Sophie Pétronin, in Bamako, Mali, on October 6, 2020.

The fate of Sophie Pétronin, the last French hostage in the world, and Soumaïla Cissé, former minister and presidential candidate, also presumed kidnapped by the jihadists, remained surrounded by uncertainty, Tuesday evening October 6, despite the persistent signs of imminent release after a long captivity.

Sophie Pétronin’s family have suggested that after nearly four years of detention in an unknown location, her transfer from northern Mali to freedom is underway. At the same time, Mali was living at the rate of information on the release of Soumaïla Cissé, kidnapped for his part more than six months ago and object with Pétronin of an exchange for dozens of jihadists, according to various sources familiar with the negotiations.

However, the Malian and French authorities have kept total silence, refraining from confirming that the release of dozens of jihadists (206 precisely, according to an Al-Qaida communications body) spread between the weekend and Tuesday was aimed at liberation. of the two hostages, and that the latter two had changed hands.

Read also In Mali, more than 100 jihadists released for possible exchange

The family is confident, but remains cautious

M’s familyme Pétronin herself expressed a lot of hope, without being absolutely sure. Sophie Pétronin’s son, Sébastien Chadaud, took a flight from Paris on Tuesday to Bamako, the Malian capital, where he arrived in the early afternoon. Sophie Pétronin’s nephew, Lionel Granouillac, who has also worked hard for his aunt in recent years, has been in telephone contact with Sébastien Chadaud. “In relation to what Sébastien told me, to developments since this afternoon and early evening, we can say that she is free”, he told Agence France-Presse (AFP) over the phone.

“She is currently in transit between Gao and Bamako”, he added. However, Sébastien Chadaud was not in visual or verbal contact with her, he said, urging caution. “We, the family, we are very confident, we wait, but we are still in this state of mind”, he said. His caution could be dictated by the complexity of a delicate operation and the logistics to be implemented in a largely semi-desert country as large as more than twice the size of France.

Read also Mali: France has “proof of life” of Sophie Pétronin hostage, according to relatives

Notables from Tessalit, joined by AFP, reported preparations to reunite Pétronin and Mr. Cissé in this northern city, to transport them by plane to Bamako. They spoke of intermediaries who had to take care of each other.

French services were working “tirelessly” for a release

Sophie Pétronin, 75, and Soumaïla Cissé, 70, former minister, presidential candidate and opposition leader, are believed to have been detained by armed Islamist groups linked to Al-Qaida. Their release would complete an operation whose bottom remains obscure. Originally from Bordeaux (south-western France), Sophie Pétronin was kidnapped on December 24, 2016 by armed men in Gao (northern Mali), where she had lived and headed for years a children’s aid organization. .

She appeared in videos released in 2017 and 2018 by the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM), an alliance of jihadist groups affiliated with Al-Qaida. The last one where we see her other than in a photo, published in mid-June 2018, shows her very tired, her face emaciated, calling on French President Emmanuel Macron.

The images of the hostage continued to alarm the family, who said she was ill and feared for her life. Relatives mobilized without stopping for his release, repeatedly urging the president, Emmanuel Macron, not to forget Pétronin and agree to negotiate with the kidnappers. Mr. Macron assured several times that the French services were working on his release ” tirelessly “, but in the discretion.

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Providing credibility for the Malian authorities

Soumaïla Cissé, second three times in the presidential election, was kidnapped on March 25 while campaigning for legislation 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-Qaida. Soumaïla Cissé is the most prominent national figure kidnapped in Mali since the independence and jihadist rebellions of 2012 plunged the country into a deep security crisis.

The spiral of violence has caused, along with inter-communal tensions, thousands of civilian and military deaths, despite the deployment of French and international forces, and has spread to neighboring Burkino Faso and Niger. Mr. Cissé’s fate was one of the rallying cries of the months-long protest against the former president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta.

The latter ended up being overthrown by a putsch on August 18. The release of Mr. Cissé and Pétronin would bring considerable credibility to the transitional authorities installed and dominated by the military. At least eight other Western hostages are said to remain in detention in the Sahel.

The World with AFP

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