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Aid worker Jeff Woodke freed after six years captivity

22 March 2023


Olivier Dubois, left, and Jeffery Woodke, centre, arrive at the airport in Niamey, Niger, on Monday

Olivier Dubois, left, and Jeffery Woodke, centre, arrive at the airport in Niamey, Niger, on Monday

A CHRISTIAN aid worker, Jeff Woodke, held captive by Islamist terrorists in Niger for more than six years was released on Monday.

Mr Woodke, the former head of Jemed, a charity supported by the aid agency Tearfund, appeared before cameras at Diori Hamani airport, in Niamey, the capital of Niger, alongside a French journalist, Olivier Dubois, who has also been released.

With them was the Nigerien Interior Minister, Hamadou Souley, who said that Mr Woodke and Mr Dubois had been freed from the hands of JNIM, a West Africa-based affiliate of al-Qaeda, after “several months of efforts” by the country’s authorities to secure their release.

President Biden’s National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, confirmed on Monday that Mr Woodke, a United States citizen, had been released, and paid tribute to Niger “for its help in bringing him home”.

Mr Woodke was abducted in 2016 from the remote desert town of Abalak, in northern Niger, by gunmen who shot and killed his guards. He was taken into northern Mali for much of his time in captivity, and according to a senior Biden administration official, was released outside Niger in the Mali-Burkina Faso area. In 2021, Mr Woodke’s wife, Els, gave a press conference in which she said his captors had demanded “a multiple-million-dollar” ransom (News, 26 November 2021).

Last week, during a visit to the region, the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, announced a US$150-million aid package to the Sahel region. Although US officials said that Washington paid no ransom for Mr Woodke’s release, the Associated Press quoted an intelligence expert as saying that the aid “could have oiled the Niger government to use its intelligence apparatus in negotiating their release”.

At the time of his abduction, Mr Woodke had stepped down as head of Jemed, and had returned to town to monitor the progress of the organisation’s work there.

Illia Djadi, a West Africa expert for the charity Open Doors, said that youth unemployment was high in Abalak, and it was possible that local young men had kidnapped Mr Woodke and sold him on. Mr Djadi said that it was “a miracle” to see Mr Woodke, aged 62, alive, and that his knowledge of nomadism in the Sahel may have helped him survive.

Mr Woodke pioneered “sustainable nomadism”, enabling nomadic pastoralists, and their children and animals, to withstand drought while retaining their traditional way of life.

Tearfund said: “We are delighted to hear the news that Jeff Woodke, former director of Tearfund partner Jemed, has been released after six years in captivity. We thank God for this amazing news and pray for Jeff’s physical and mental health as he is reunited with his family and adjusts to life after captivity.”

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