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Wife of missionary kidnapped five years ago in northern Niger makes new appeal for his release

26 November 2021


Els Woodke holds a press conference in Washington, DC, on Wednesday of last week

Els Woodke holds a press conference in Washington, DC, on Wednesday of last week

THE wife of an American missionary who was kidnapped five years ago has made a fresh appeal for help to secure his release.

Jeffery Woodke, who led an NGO supported by Tearfund, was abducted by armed men from his compound in northern Niger in October 2016. His two guards were killed.

His wife, Els, told a press conference in Washington, DC, on Wednesday of last week that, on the basis of government and other sources, she believed that her husband “was alive and well this summer”, and had been transferred from the custody of an affiliate of Islamic State in Mali to the custody of a jihadist group whose leader has overseen the release of other hostages. The leader of Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISIS GS), Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, was killed in a drone strike by French military forces in mid-August.

In a rare public statement, she said: “We believe some point prior to Walid’s death, Jeff was moved from the custody of ISIS GS to the custody of JNIM [Jamaa Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin, or the Support Group for Islam and Muslims], an affiliate of Al-Qaeda” headed by Iyad Ag Ghali. “In the light of Ag Ghali’s consistent overtures in favour of peace negotiations, we feel that this is the most opportune time for Jeff to be released since he was kidnapped.”

Mrs Woodke said that she believed there was “a multiple-million-dollar” ransom for his release, and appealed “for help from my brothers and sisters in Christ, from the Governments of Mali and the United States”.

She expressed frustration at the failure of the US to secure her husband’s release. “I’ve been repeatedly told that if I disclose certain information that came from certain sources, that I would no longer receive any information from those sources. I’ve had also so many restrictions imposed from the US government that any meaningful attempt to raise the ransom is effectively prohibited,” she said.

Appealing directly to Ag Ghali, she added: “Releasing Jeff will require compassion and mercy, but these are the characteristics of a strong and courageous leader.”

Mr Woodke is the head of Jemed, a charity pioneering “sustainable nomadism” — conserving water, cultivating crops, and building wells and schools — in the arid Sahel region to enable local Tuareg and Wodaabe families to maintain their traditional lifestyles in the face of climate change. He is well known and widely respected in the region.

Tearfund declined to comment.

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