Finally free. Leaning on a cane, beard and white hair, Jeffery Woodke, appeared Monday, March 20, alongside the French Olivier Dubois, facing the cameras at Niamey airport. Free after six years of captivity. “He’s safe,” his wife, Els Woodke, told the New York Times, “I don’t know if he’s healthy yet.”
The American humanitarian was kidnapped on October 16, 2016 in Niger by jihadist groups and taken to Mali where he was held hostage. The first American kidnapped on Nigerien soil, he had been kidnapped from his home in Abalak, a town of 30,000 inhabitants in the Tahoua region in northwestern Niger. A national guard and the caretaker of the house had been killed during the attack attributed by the Nigerien minister of the interior at the time to the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao).
« Jeff »
Settled in Abalak, a city with a Tuareg majority for twenty-five years, “Jeff” was known there as the white wolf. Very involved in the local community, the humanitarian was fluent in Fulani, Tamachek (Tuareg language) and Arabic. This convinced believer worked for an American Christian NGO, Youth with a mission (Youth in mission) specialized in the management of droughts, access to education and medical care.
In the Tahoua region, the association was responsible for digging pastoral wells and building schools. “Jeff helped breeders to face various challenges including that of climate change”, had written on its site the diocese of Maradi after the kidnapping of the humanitarian. “Thanks to his tenacity, he has enabled hundreds or even thousands of breeders to have water to water their animals. He built schools in the area to provide acceptable study conditions for the children of nomads,” insisted the diocese.
Since 2006, Jeffery Woodke shared his time between Niger and the United States where his two sons continued their studies with their mother. During her husband’s long years of captivity, Els Woodke posted several messages on social networks or in the media to challenge her husband’s kidnappers, to ask for negotiations and to demand proof of life. Last year, she revealed that the Islamists were demanding a ransom of several million dollars for her release.
The White House national security adviser said he was “satisfied and relieved” on Monday. “The United States thanks Niger for the assistance provided” as part of this release, he added.
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