BAMAKO, MALI - Kidnapped Malian politician Soumaila Cisse, French aid worker Sophie Petronin and two Italians were freed Thursday, Mali's presidency said, after lengthy periods in the hands of Islamist insurgents.
Their release follows a tense few days, as reports that the Malian authorities had freed scores of suspected militants over the weekend fueled expectations of an imminent prisoner swap. It was unclear whether a ransom was paid.
"The ex-hostages are on their way to Bamako," Mali's presidency said on Twitter.
It added in a statement that the release was obtained due to efforts by Mali security services and international partners but gave no further details.
Malian and French authorities had neither confirmed nor denied that talks about their potential release were ongoing.
Cisse, a popular politician who served as finance minister in the 1990s, was kidnapped by gunmen while campaigning in the northern region of Timbuktu in March.
Petronin, who ran a charity for malnourished and orphaned children, was abducted near the northern city of Gao in late 2016.
"Sophie Petronin is free. Held hostage for nearly 4 years in Mali, her release is a great relief," said French President Emmanuel Macron on Twitter.
The two Italian hostages are Pierluigi Maccalli, a priest and missionary who was taken in September 2018 in Niger, close to the Burkina Faso border, and Nicola Chiacchio, who is thought to have been a tourist when he was captured. The two appeared on a video in April 2020.
The release is a significant victory for Mali's interim leadership who are overseeing an 18-month transition back to civilian rule after the Aug. 18 overthrow of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
"The transitional authorities express their warm thanks to all the national and foreign actors who, from near or far, have contributed to this happy outcome," said Ousmane Issoufi Maiga, the head of the crisis unit in Mali's presidency.