French special forces freed Dutch captive Sjaak Rijke in an operation in northern Mali. Rijke, along with Swedish and South African nationals, were captured in Timbuktu in 2011 by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al Qaeda’s official branch in North Africa.
The special operations raid was originally targeting AQIM militants before the French forces found Rijke. According to the BBC, his presence caught the French special operators by surprise; it was only after the fighting was over when they realized the militants were holding the Dutch hostage. The French defense ministry has said that Rijke is in good health and has been transferred to a French military base in Tessalit in northern Mali.
The other two men captured with Rijke, Swede Johan Gustafsson and Stephen Malcom from South Africa, are still missing. The men were kidnapped by AQIM in a Timbuktu hotel in 2011 and appear to have been separated by the al Qaeda branch. Before his rescue, Rijke appeared with French national Serge Lazarevic in a video produced by AQIM. The video, which was released last year, had the two hostages plead to their respective governments to intervene in order to free them. (For more on this video, see LWJ report, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb video features French, Dutch hostages.)
AQIM has a history of taking Western hostages. In 2010, Michel Germaneau, a French hostage held by AQIM, died while in captivity. And in 2013, four French hostages were released by AQIM after being held for three years; it is speculated that a ransom of 20 million Euros was paid to free them.