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Last French Hostage in Mali Might be Released

Sophie Pétronin, 75, was abducted in Mali in December 2016 and after almost four years in detention is known as the last French hostage in the world. Now, there are reports of her imminent release, alongside a veteran Malian politician, as part of a prisoner swap for more than 100 jihadists.  Charity worker Ms Pétronin had already evaded abduction once in disguise. Meanwhile, ex-opposition leader and former presidential candidate Soumaïla Cissé, 70, was kidnapped in March. Mali militant group JNIM, which is affiliated to al-Qaeda, is believed to be behind their abductions. Authorities have been working on their release for months and are reportedly wary of any last-minute hitches. In August, Malian president Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta was overthrown by a military junta and little is known of what happened to the talks after the coup. “It’s too soon to celebrate,” Ms Pétronin’s son Sébastien Chadaud warned. “We’ve already lived through moments like this for four years.” Known as France’s last hostage held by jihadist militants, Sophie Pétronin’s cause has been almost forgotten, despite her family’s attempts to campaign for her release. Abducted on Christmas Eve 2016 in the northern city of Gao, she was well known locally for her work helping orphans and other children suffering from malnutrition. She had been running Swiss charity Association Aid to Gao since 2004 and was an expert in guinea-worm disease, which spread through contaminated water in northern Mali. When Tuareg rebels backed by Islamists seized Gao as unrest spread in Mali in 2012, seven Algerian diplomats were abducted and the Algerian consul gave her protection until the building came under attack. She fled through a back door and was spirited out of Mali into Algeria wearing long robes.