More than six years ago, American Jeff Woodke was attacked at his home in Niger and taken into captivity. Now he and a French journalist who was also being held in the region are finally free.
“I’m gratified & relieved to see the release of U.S. hostage Jeff Woodke after over 6 years in captivity. The U.S. thanks Niger for its help in bringing him home to all who miss & love him. I thank so many across our government who’ve worked tirelessly toward securing his freedom,” tweeted Jake Sullivan, White House national security adviser, on Monday.
Like Sullivan’s tweet, news reports on Woodke’s release don’t include many details about what took place over the past few days. What’s known is that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Niger last week, according to The Washington Post.
One government official told reporters that no ransom was paid.
“A senior Biden administration official who briefed reporters Monday on condition of anonymity described the release as the culmination of years of efforts, but declined to say what exactly led to him being freed from captivity or where he is now,” USA Today reported.
Woodke had been in captivity since 2016, when armed “militants” entered his home, killed his guards and abducted him, The Washington Post reported. Before the attack, Woodke had been in Niger off and on for around three decades doing Christian aid work, like building wells and schools.
“Though he was believed to have been abducted by a West African affiliate of the Islamic State, Woodke was thought to be in Africa’s vast Sahel region and held by JNIM, a West African affiliate of al-Qaida,” USA Today reported.
Woodke’s wife, Els, was able to speak to her husband early Monday morning after his release.
“He was in great spirits and thrilled to be free,” the family said in a statement, according to NBC News. “He is undergoing medical evaluation and will be working with his family and the U.S. government on plans for his return home and reunion with his family.”
Woodke was freed at the same time as Olivier Dubois, a French journalist who was taken captive in Mali in 2021. Dubois is believed to have been kidnapped by “the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM), the main jihadist alliance in the Sahel which is linked to Al-Qaida,” The Guardian reported.
Like Sullivan, French President Emmanuel Macron thanked Niger for its help securing Dubois’ release, according to NBC News.