American aid worker abducted in Niger freed, celebration in Hoogkarspel

Jeff Woodke (r) after his release

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In Niger, a kidnapped American aid worker and a French journalist have been released after years. According to the French and American authorities, they are doing well given the circumstances.

American Jeff Woodke (62), married to a Dutch woman, was kidnapped in October 2016 by jihadists, presumably a group affiliated with Islamic State. It happened in Niamey, the capital of Niger. An employee and a security guard of Woodke were killed. Woodke was pulled into a van, which then drove towards the Mali border.

French journalist Olivier Dubois (48) was kidnapped in April 2021. He was taken by an extremist group in northern Mali, where he lived and worked.

Today, the American and French authorities announced that the two have been released. The two men arrived together in the capital of Niger. The New York Times writes that the US authorities have not paid a ransom for Woodke. The French authorities do not say how Dubois’s release came about.

Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, thanked Nigerien authorities on Twitter for their contribution to Woodke’s release:

Woodke’s wife, the Dutch Els, lived all those years in uncertainty with her children. Last year she told NH News that she has always believed in a happy ending. “We have not received any new proof of life. Yet everyone assumes that Jeff is still alive.”

Later that day he spoke more extensively to his sister Els, who lives in the United States. “She talked to Jeff on the phone for an hour. He’s doing well given the circumstances.”

Six years without their father

According to Jeroen, Woodke is now undergoing a medical examination, after which he can reunite with his wife and children. “He can enjoy the friendliness of the people again and has really enjoyed his first vegetable in years, a carrot.”

For Ronald it means a double holiday, because his daughter got married today. “Very special how things come together. It couldn’t be better.” Jeroen says he is especially happy for his sister. “But also for my cousins, Bobby and Matthew. They had to live without their father for more than six years.”

It is not clear exactly how the release came about. “For Els that is of course not a priority at all at the moment. Only one thing is important now and that is meeting each other.”

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