Woman taken hostage in Mali back in Timbuktu

Woman taken hostage in Mali back in Timbuktu

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — A Swiss woman who was kidnapped and briefly held by an al-Qaida-linked group last year has returned to the northern Malian town of Timbuktu, from where she was taken, residents said on Monday.

Beatrice Stockli, the former hostage, was seen in Timbuktu over the weekend, said Diadie Hamadoun Maiga, vice president of the crisis cell created in Timbuktu to deal with the al-Qaida occupation.

"It's true. I saw her yesterday at the market," said Maiga. "She told me that she had never wanted to leave."

Although Timbuktu fell to Islamic extremists on April 1, 2012, Stockli — a Christian — refused to evacuate. She was abducted on April 15 and ended up in the hands of the al-Qaida-linked group Ansar Dine, according to their spokesman, Sanda Ould Boumana, who confirmed her capture in a telephone interview with the AP at the time. She was freed on April 24 after a mediation effort led by neighboring Burkina Faso, which sent a helicopter to pick her up.

At the time, Stockli was accused by the Islamists of proselytizing for Christianity and warned that she would be executed if she ever tried to return to Timbuktu.

Northern Mali, including the city of Timbuktu, was freed from the extremists by a French-led military campaign this January. The members of Ansar Dine fled into the desert to the north. In May, officials in Mauritania confirmed that Boumana had turned himself in to agents at the Mali-Mauritania border.

With Timbuktu no longer controlled by the Islamic radicals, Stockli decided to return, say locals.

"I saw her in person. She looked relaxed," said Alpha Sanechirfi, who heads the Malian Office of Tourism in Timbuktu. "She was walking around the market as she used to do, selling trinkets."