A Dutchman kidnapped in Mali in November 2011 has been freed by French special forces soldiers, the French defence ministry said on Monday.
According to French president Francois Hollande, the troops had not expected to find a hostage when they carried out the raid on the ‘group of terrorists’ in the early hours of Monday morning.
‘It was a surprise for us and for our troops to be able to free a hostage,’ he told French television. ‘We did not have any information about the presence of a hostage.’
Sjaak Rijke was seized in Timbuktu together with a Swede and a South African by Islamic terrorists. His wife managed to escape the hostage-takers. The couple, described as seasoned travellers by the AD, were on a ‘dream trip’ to cross the Sahara.
The rescue took place in the very early hours of Monday morning in northern Mali, the French defence ministry statement said. Rijke, who is said to be in good health, was taken to the French military base in Tessalit.
Several people were captured during the raid, according to the French statement. There is no mention of the other hostages taken at the same time as Rijke.
Rijke, a train driver, was 51 when he was kidnapped by heavily armed men when they burst into the hotel where he and his wife were staying. A German man who refused to go with the gunmen was shot dead.
In a video appeal released in November last year, Rijke calls on the Dutch people to put pressure on their government to agree to the demands of the Muslim fighters.
‘I hold my government responsible for any harm that befalls me,’ he says in English, adding that he has serious back problems and is emotionally drained.