An al-Qaeda-linked group in Mali has released a proof-of-life video of six foreign hostages, one of them held since 2011. SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist groups, said the recently formed al-Qaeda affiliate, Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen, released the video on Saturday, a day before French President Emmanuel Macron visited the country.
The undated video includes Stephen McGown from South Africa, Kenneth Elliott from Australia, Iulian Ghergut from Romania, Beatrice Stockly from Switzerland, Colombian nun Cecilia Narvaez Agorti, and Sophie Petronin from France.
“No genuine negotiations have begun to rescue your children,” a narrator said in the video.
Extremists kidnapped McGown from Timbuktu in northern Mali in 2011 along with Johan Gustafsson, who was released at the end of last month. In 2015, extremists abducted Elliott and his wife Jocelyn from bordering Burkina Faso, where they ran a medical mission clinic. They released Jocelyn in February 2016. Ghergut, a mineworker, said he was also kidnapped from Burkina Faso in April 2015. Stockly, a Swiss missionary in Mali, was kidnapped for the second time in January 2016, while Petronin was taken in December from the city of Gao. She ran a clinic for malnourished children in the region. In the latest incident, jihadists kidnapped Agorti, a Franciscan nun, in February when they attacked a church in Mali’s Karangasso village.
Macron on Sunday met with the leaders of five nations in the Sahel region to garner support for a new 5,000-member multinational force against extremism. Mali and its neighboring countries continue to face attacks from extremist groups. Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen emerged in March as a coalition between Ansar Dine, al-Qaeda-linked al-Mourabitoun, and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. The group claimed responsibility for an attack last month that targeted a resort popular among foreigners, killing at least five people.
Macron welcomed the sign of life from Petronin and denounced the group. “They are terrorists, thugs, and assassins,” Macron said, “and we will put all our energies into eradicating them.”
Ebrahim Deen, a researcher with the Afro Middle East Center in South Africa, said the extremist group released the video ahead of Macron’s visit as a publicity tactic to present a united front. Extremist groups in Mali have a history of negotiating and releasing hostages, Deen said, but the trend could change if a new multinational force starts to close in on them.