Freed Malian politician details months as al-Qaeda hostage

BAMAKO, MALI (AP) — Malian politician Soumaila Cisse’s captors kept him constantly on the move in the inhospitable desert, he told French television, describing his six months with al-Qaeda-linked militants as “near permanent physical and moral isolation”.

His interview with TV5 Monde came as Swiss authorities confirmed that another hostage held by the same group was dead.

The militants freed Cisse in the past week along with French hostage Sophie Petronin and Italians Nicola Chiacchio and the Reverend Pierluigi Maccalli days after Mali’s government released nearly 200 jailed extremists in an apparent exchange.

Late Friday, the Swiss Foreign Ministry said French authorities had informed them that Swiss hostage Beatrice Stoeckli had been killed about a month ago. Authorities had been trying to negotiate her release since she was kidnapped four years ago.

There was no immediate information about the four other foreign hostages still being held by the group known as JNIM: Australian doctor Ken Elliott, Colombian nun Gloria Cecilia Narváez Argoti, South African national Christo Bothma and Romanian citizen Julian Ghergut.

It was not known whether a ransom had been paid, though extremist groups have long funded their operations with such payments from European governments. Cisse, 70, who was abducted while campaigning in northern Mali for re-election as a Parliament member, told TV5 Monde that his captors moved them by motorcycle, boat, even camel.

On Friday, the French and Italian hostages returned to Europe, where they were greeted by dignitaries and family members.

Three-time Malian presidential candidate and ex-hostage Soumaila Cisse (C) arrives at the Presidential palace. PHOTO: AP