Olivier Dubois was taken hostage by an al-Qaeda-linked group in Mali in 2021 Olivier Dubois speaks to journalists as he arrives at the Diori Hamani International Airport in Niamey, Niger, March 20, 2023 © AFP / Souleymane Ag Anara

French journalist Olivier Dubois was released from captivity in Mali on Monday, after being held hostage for 23 months by militants with ties to al-Qaeda. The release comes several months after France withdrew its troops from the former colony.

Photos posted on social media showed Dubois arriving at Niamey Airport in Niger, and the journalist’s release was confirmed on Twitter by French President Emmanuel Macron shortly afterwards. It is unclear how French authorities managed to secure Dubois’ freedom, but in a follow-up tweet, Macron expressed “immense gratitude to Niger” for the country’s role in negotiations.

During a trip to the Ivory Coast in December, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said that France was doing “everything possible” to free the journalist.

Dubois, who worked for the newspaper Liberation and Le Point magazine, was kidnapped in April 2021 by the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM), a regional jihadist organization loyal to al-Qaeda. At the time, the group was engaged in a campaign of skirmishes against UN peacekeepers and French troops, the latter of whom were conducting an anti-insurgency operation on behalf of the Malian government.

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Dubois announced his kidnapping in a video posted to social media the month after his capture. A second proof-of-life video was posted last March, and a third was obtained and kept secret by French negotiators at the start of this year, Liberation reported.

He was the first French national to be taken hostage by rebels in Mali since aid worker Sophie Petronin was freed in a prisoner-swap deal in October 2020.

The French military initially deployed to Mali in 2013 at the behest of the Malian government. After pushing Islamist forces out of the northern half of the country, the military launched Operation Barkhane a year later, expanding its mission to Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, and Niger, all former French colonies.

After some initial successes for the French, jihadist violence increased, and France was ordered to withdraw by Colonel Assimi Goita, who came to power in a military coup in May 2021. France’s mission ended last August, and Goita has since turned to Russia for military assistance.

France has also been given 30 days to withdraw from Burkina Faso, and now keeps the majority of its Africa-based troops in Niger.

In addition to Dubois’ release, American aid worker Jeffrey Woodke was set free in Niger on Monday. Woodke was abducted by GSIM fighters in 2016 and driven toward Mali, where he was reportedly held. A US official told CNN that no ransom was paid for Woodke, but his release came a week after Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Niger and announced a $150 million aid package for the Sahel region. (RT)