Freed Italian hostages heading home from Mali: Airport source

AFP , Friday 9 Oct 2020

Their release came after the Malian government freed more than 100 prisoners over the weekend

Two Italians released in Mali at the same time as a 75-year-old French aid worker and a leading Malian politician were on their way back home on Friday, an airport source said.

Nicola Chiacchio and Pier Luigi Maccalli's liberation was announced by the Malian government on Thursday. The other hostages released were French aid worker Sophie Petronin and leading Malian opposition politician Soumaila Cisse.

Their release came after the Malian government freed more than 100 prisoners over the weekend.

"A special plane came to pick up the two Italian (ex) hostages," a source at Bamako airport in Mali said. "The plane took off on Friday morning."

Maccalli, a priest who had been living in Niger for 11 years, was kidnapped from his home in 2018 in the southwest of the country near the border with Burkina Faso.

He appeared in a hostage video in March this year in the company of fellow Italian Chiacchio.

Italian media reports said Chiacchio was a young tourist who disappeared in northern Mali in February last year when he was cycling around the volatile region.

The pair were held by al Qaeda-affiliated militants.

The prisoner release came after a military junta overthrew president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in August. An interim government has been installed and is set to govern Mali for 18 months before staging elections.

The kidnapping of former opposition leader Cisse was one of the factors that fuelled popular protests which led to the ouster of Keita over his perceived inability to tackle jihadists and Islamist insurgency.

Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed in the unrest, which has also often taken on an ethnic dimension.

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