'I was certain that I would come back:' Sophie Pétronin on her release from captivity in Mali

French ex-hostage Sophie Pétronin, who was released and flew to Bamako, is seen with her son Sebastien Chadaud Pétronin during a press conference in Bamako on October 8, 2020.
French ex-hostage Sophie Pétronin, who was released and flew to Bamako, is seen with her son Sebastien Chadaud Pétronin during a press conference in Bamako on October 8, 2020. © AFP

Sophie Pétronin, an elderly aid worker who was the last French hostage in the world, was released on Thursday after being held captive by jihadists in Mali for nearly four years.

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Mali announced the release of Frenchwoman Pétronin, 75, and Malian politician Soumaïla Cissé on Thursday, alongside two Italian nationals.

French President Emmanuel Macron voiced “immense relief” at Pétronin's release, and tweeted Friday that he would welcome her back to France.

Footage shared on social media showed a frail, white-robed Pétronin – who was the last French citizen held hostage in the world – descending from a plane, to an emotional greeting from her son, Sebastian Chadaud-Pétronin in Bamako.

Shortly after greeting her son, Pétronin spoke to reporters.

“Deep down, I was certain that I would come back,” she said. “That I wouldn't die in between. And I told myself, don't give too much importance to death. Because you don't know where, when or how it's going to happen.”

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“So I told myself ‘It doesn't matter. Go ahead, stay strong, hang on,’” she continued. “It's what [my son] said. It’s what he said in a video: ‘Hang on, hold on.’ It's what I did.”

“The Malian authorities were excellent,” Pétronin added. “Everything happened calmly, with a smile. It was really high-level.”

Cissé, a three-time presidential candidate and former opposition leader, was also hugged by loved ones and greeted by cheering crowds on his way home.

“It was a difficult period, but it has been overcome,” the 70-year-old told AFP.

Prisoner swap

News of the hostages release on Thursday came after the government freed over 100 prisoners over the weekend, which sparked speculation of a prisoner swap for Pétronin and Cissé.

In an unexpected development, the prime ministers office also announced Thursday that two Italian nationals, Nicola Chiacchio and Pier Luigi Maccalli, had been freed.

It was not immediately clear whether the two had arrived in Bamako on the same flight.

Pétronin was abducted by gunmen on December 24, 2016, in the northern city of Gao, where she worked for a childrens charity.

Cissé, a former opposition leader and three-time presidential candidate, was kidnapped on March 25 while campaigning in his home region of Niafounke, central Mali, ahead of parliamentary elections.

Maccalli, a priest, was abducted in neighbouring Niger in 2018. Chiacchio went missing in northern Mali last year while on a solo bicycle trip, according to Italian media.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

 

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