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KIDNAPPING

Mali Islamists ‘ready to free’ Swiss hostage

A Swiss woman abducted last week in rebel-held Timbuktu in northern Mali has been snatched from her captors by armed Islamists who want to free her, several security sources said Sunday.

“On Saturday two armed groups clashed in the Timbuktu region over the Swiss hostage. One group was detaining her and the other wanted to free her,” said a security source based outside Mali.

A separate security source inside Timbuktu said the woman, Beatrice Stockly, had orginally been in the hands of “a private militia that had planned to sell her to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).”

He said members of the Islamist group Ansar Dine, who took control of Timbuktu on April 1st and began imposing strict Muslim Sharia law in the fabled city, had followed the “sub-contractors” and a clash had ensued.

“Gunfire was exchanged and the sub-contractors were forced to abandon the hostage.”

A second source in Timbuktu confirmed it was Ansar Dine who was now holding Stockly, adding: “They say they are prepared to free her.”

A separate informed source case said: “Ansar Dine rejected an offer for mediation by a humanitarian group, saying they prefer to speak directly to the Swiss.”

Stockly, in her 40s, was snatched last week in Timbuktu, having refused to leave after the city fell into the hands of Ansar Dine and AQIM fighters.

A coup in the south a few days earlier allowed different rebel groups to seize the country’s north.

AQIM, which has bases in the north of Mali, operates across the Sahel region and, along with splinter group the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), is currently holding 12 European and seven Algerian hostages.

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HOSTAGE

Swiss hostage ‘killed by jihadis in Mali’: ministry

A Swiss woman being held hostage in Mali "was apparently killed by kidnappers... about a month ago", Bern's foreign ministry said in a statement Friday.

Swiss hostage 'killed by jihadis in Mali': ministry
The information was provided by Sophie Petronin (above), who returned to France on Friday after four years in captivity. Photo: Stringer/AFP
“It was with great sadness that I learned of the death of our fellow citizen,” foreign affairs chief Ignazio Cassis said, adding that “I condemn this cruel act and express my deepest sympathy to the relatives”.
   
Switzerland did not release the name of the hostage who had been killed, but said they had been held by the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM), an alliance comprising several jihadist groups aligned to al-Qaeda that has claimed responsibility for some of the biggest attacks in the Sahel region.
   
The foreign ministry (DFAE) said that “information about the killing was obtained by the French authorities from the recently released French hostage” Sophie Petronin, who returned to France on Friday after being freed by the Malian insurgents following almost four years in captivity.
 
   
Swiss authorities “are making every effort to find out more about the circumstances of the killing and the whereabouts of the remains,” the DFAE said, adding  that it “demands handing over” of the hostage's body.
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