A 75-year-old French aid worker held hostage for four years by Islamic extremists in Mali arrived Friday in France — and says she wants to return to her aid work with malnourished children despite the ordeal.
Relatives greeted Sophie Petronin in a huge embrace after she descended from the plane at the Villacoublay military airport southwest of Paris, where she was greeted by French President Emmanuel Macron.
Macron expressed joy and relief at her release, thanked the Malian authorities, and promised that the French military would continue its fight against terrorism in the West African region.
Petronin was released with three other hostages from Mali and Italy this week.
Petronin said she had been treated relatively well during captivity. Her account contrasted with that of fellow hostage Soumaïla Cissé, a prominent Malian politician who recounted months of arduous conditions before a precarious trip to their extraction point.
“I hung on – I prayed a lot because I had a lot of time,” Petronin told reporters at the French embassy in Bamako. “I transformed detention … into a spiritual retreat if one can say that.”
Freedom for the four came days after Malian authorities released nearly 200 militants and sent them by plane to the north of the country, fuelling speculation of an imminent prisoner exchange that some fear could further destabilise the country.
It was not immediately known whether a ransom was paid, though extremist groups have long funded their operations with such payments from European governments.