BAMAKO — A Mali-based al-Qaeda affiliate has released a video of six foreign hostages ahead of a visit by French President Emmanuel Macron to the country.
They include a French non-governmental organisation worker, an elderly Australian surgeon and a Colombian nun.
No “genuine” negotiations to release them have taken place, the video says.
Macron is in Mali to consolidate western backing for a regional force against the militants.
Speaking in Mali’s capital Bamako, he said France and the Sahel G5 countries — Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania and Niger — had to work together to eradicate “terrorists, thugs and murderers”.
Among the hostages seen in the footage is Sophie Petronin, who was abducted last December in the town of Gao, where she ran an NGO helping malnourished children.
The video also shows South African hostage, Stephen McGown asking when his ordeal will come to an end.
“Now we’re making a new video, but I don’t know what to say. It’s all been said in the past. It’s all been said in previous videos I’ve made,” he says.
The release of this video will lead many to believe that it was timed to coincide with a meeting of West African leaders and France’s president in Mali yesterday.
It is a reminder that al-Qaeda affiliates remain the main jihadist threat across the region. Some of the hostages were abducted a few years ago while others more recently — keeping hostages that long and seizing new ones show how much al-Qaeda relies on ransom money to operate.
The deployment of yet another force, discussed yesterday, is part of a huge security build-up in the Sahel, where foreign military presence has increased in the last few years.
But observers say political solutions are also needed across the impoverished region, where a lack of infrastructure and opportunities allows jihadist groups to thrive.
The 17-minute video was released by a group calling itself the Group to Support Islam and Muslims, an alliance of militant organisations including some that have been linked to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) — on the Telegram messaging service on Saturday.
The video’s narrator says no genuine negotiations have begun but also says negotiations are still active. No demands are made.