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French Special Forces Free Dutch Hostage Held In Mali Since 2011

More than three years after he was taken hostage by an al-Qaida-linked group, a Dutch citizen was freed by French commandos early Monday morning in West Africa. The raid in northern Mali killed several of Sjaak Rijke's captors; others were taken captive.

France's Defense Ministry says Rijke, 51, is now safe and healthy after being taken to a military base in Mali. Welcoming the news Monday, Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders said, "I am happy and relieved that an end has come to this terrible period of uncertainty and grief."

Journalist Teri Schultz reports for NPR's Newscast unit:

"Rijke was seized along with his wife and two other men from a restaurant in Timbuktu in November 2011. His wife managed to escape; a German man was shot dead for refusing to go with them.

"Last September, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb released a video in which Rijke begged his government to negotiate his release, noting the U.S. exchanged five Taliban members for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's return.

"'It's now more than a thousand days since my captivity in the Sahara,' Rijke said in the video. 'Please help me, please.'

"There's no word on the status of the Swedish and South African men taken hostage with Rijke."

France has been conducting a large military counterterrorism operation in Mali since 2013, after its former colony requested help. The effort, now called Operation Barkhane, includes 3,000 soldiers. The Netherlands is also participating in a U.N. operation to stabilize Mali.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.