CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — An 88-year-old Australian doctor held captive in West Africa for more than seven years has been released, the Australian government said Friday.
Kenneth Elliott, from the west coast city of Perth, was safe and well and had been reunited with his wife Jocelyn and their children, Foreign Minister Penny Wong said in a statement.
Elliott and his wife were kidnapped by Islamic extremists in northern Burkina Faso in January 2016 near the border with Mali and Niger, where they were running a medical clinic. Jocelyn Elliott was released a month later.
Wong said the Australian government and the Elliott family have worked tirelessly toward Elliott’s release. She did not detail the circumstances of his release.
“We wish to express our thanks to God and all who have continued to pray for us,” Elliott’s family said in a statement released by the minister’s department.
“We express our relief that Dr. Elliott is free and thank the Australian government and all who have been involved over time to secure his release,” the family statement said.
“At 88 years of age, and after many years away from home, Dr. Elliott now needs time and privacy to rest and rebuild strength,” the family added.
The militant group behind the kidnapping, Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, rose to prominence in large part through kidnap-for-ransom operations targeting foreign aid workers and tourists.
On the day the Australian couple were kidnapped — Jan. 15, 2016 — 30 people were killed in an extremist attack in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou. Al-Qaida's North Africa wing claimed responsibility for that attack and other high-profile strikes in West Africa months earlier, including killing 20 people in an attack on a hotel in Mali’s capital Bamako.
The Elliotts were kidnapped near the Burkina Faso town of Djibo, where they have run a medical clinic for four decades.
Jocelyn Elliott was freed in neighboring Niger. The then Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou had worked with Burkina Faso intelligence services to secure her release, his office said at the time.
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