PARIS (AP) — French special forces on Monday freed a Dutchman held hostage since being kidnapped in 2011 by extremists in Mali, the government said. There was no word on the fate of two men abducted at the same time.
The French military said the rescue of Sjaak Rijke took place at 5 a.m. Monday in far northern Mali. French President Francois Hollande said some militants were killed and others captured. Monday's statement did not identify who was holding Rijke, but the Dutchman appeared in a video posted in November by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.
Some 3,000 French forces are taking part in the mission to stabilize Mali, which was overrun by al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremists until French troops came to the aid of Malian soldiers in January 2013. Hollande said the special forces had planned the operation against the extremists without knowing Rijke was among them.
Rijke was abducted by extremists in November 2011 from a hostel in Timbuktu along with Johan Gustafsson of Sweden and South African Stephen Malcolm, who holds dual British citizenship. A German died in that attack.
Officials in France and the Netherlands did not say whether there was any news of Gustafsson or Malcolm after Monday's operation. The South African government would not comment publicly Monday on Malcolm's whereabouts, citing security reasons.
France said Rijke was safely evacuated to a French operating base in Tessalit.
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.
Michael Corder in Amsterdam and Lynsey Chutel in Johannesburg contributed to this report.