French forces rescue hostage in Mali detained since 2011

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French and Dutch Hostages Appear in Video Linked to Al Qaeda

PARIS (AP) -- French special forces on Monday freed a Dutchman held hostage since being kidnapped in 2011 by extremists in Mali, the military said. There was no immediate word on the fate of two men abducted at the same time.

The military said the rescue of Sjaak Rijke took place at 5 a.m. Monday in far northern Mali, and that several militants were captured. Monday's statement did not identify who was holding Rijke, but the Dutchman appeared in a video posted in November by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.

Some 3,000 French forces are taking part in the mission to stabilize Mali, which was overrun by al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremists until French troops came to the aid of Malian soldiers in January 2013.

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French forces rescue hostage in Mali detained since 2011
Sjaak Rijke, un Néerlandais otage d'Al-Qaida (AQMI) enlevé au Mali, a été libéré par les forces spéciales françaises http://t.co/9hnmAkPmqD
Arrival of Sjaak Rijke on French Tessalit Airbase. 2 terrorists reportedly killed. http://t.co/at6nPxKGHo #SjaakRijke http://t.co/qmBj7mFm5X
French helicopters are stationed at a base in Goa, 320 km east southeast of Timbuktu, on January 2, 2015 as part of the Barkhane Operation, after the city was taken by French and Malian forces in January 2013, who drove out the controlling Islamists from the city. A total of 3,000 troops are deployed across Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger to track and combat Islamist militants, backed by fighter aircraft, helicopters and drones. AFP PHOTO / DOMINIQUE FAGET (Photo credit should read DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
De in Mali bevrijde Sjaak Rijke maakt het naar omstandigheden goed, zegt minister Koenders http://t.co/eJobmQddKP http://t.co/DVIqb18pCd
De kidnapper van machinist Sjaak Rijke is zelf gesneuveld http://t.co/ysfRxfuD80 http://t.co/kM9B66M1Bu via @telegraaf
A French soldier of the detachment of the Operation Barkhane stands guard on January 2, 2015 at a French base outside the northern Malian city of Gao. The French military in 2013 routed radical Islamist groups from large swathes of northern Mali. Then in August 2014, the Malian operation gave way to a wider, regional counter-terrorism drive dubbed Operation Barkhane. A total of 3,000 troops are deployed across Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger to track and combat Islamist militants, backed by fighter aircraft, helicopters and drones. AFP PHOTO / DOMINIQUE FAGET (Photo credit should read DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
French armoured vehicles are seen at their base near Goa, 320 km east southeast of Timbuktu, on January 2, 2015, part of the Barkhane Operation. Goa was re-taken by French and Malian forces in January 2013, after driving out the controlling Islamists from the city. A total of 3,000 troops are deployed across Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger to track and combat Islamist militants, backed by fighter aircraft, helicopters and drones. AFP PHOTO / DOMINIQUE FAGET (Photo credit should read DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
French soldiers of the detachment of the Operation Barkhane stand on January 2, 2015 at a French base outside the northern Malian city of Gao. The French military in 2013 routed radical Islamist groups from large swathes of northern Mali. Then in August 2014, the Malian operation gave way to a wider, regional counter-terrorism drive dubbed Operation Barkhane. A total of 3,000 troops are deployed across Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger to track and combat Islamist militants, backed by fighter aircraft, helicopters and drones. AFP PHOTO / DOMINIQUE FAGET (Photo credit should read DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
Soldier of the detachment of the Operation Barkhane walk on January 2, 2015 at a French base outside the northern Malian city of Gao. The French military in 2013 routed radical Islamist groups from large swathes of northern Mali. Then in August 2014, the Malian operation gave way to a wider, regional counter-terrorism drive dubbed Operation Barkhane. A total of 3,000 troops are deployed across Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger to track and combat Islamist militants, backed by fighter aircraft, helicopters and drones. AFP PHOTO / DOMINIQUE FAGET (Photo credit should read DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
FILE - This Feb. 6, 2013, file photo shows French soldiers walking on the tarmac of the airport in the remote desert city of Tesalit, northern Mali. Promises of a pullout of France's 4,000 troops in Mali starting next month are looking harder and harder to fulfill. The fighting in rugged mountain terrain is growing tougher and threats of suicide bombings and hostage-takings are getting worse. (AP Photo/File)
FILE - This Feb. 10, 2013, file photo shows French soldiers securing the evacuation of foreigners during exchanges of fire with jihadists in Gao, northern Mali. Promises of a pullout of France's 4,000 troops in Mali starting next month are looking harder and harder to fulfill. The fighting in rugged mountain terrain is growing tougher and threats of suicide bombings and hostage-takings are getting worse. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay, File)
FILE - This Feb. 10, 2013, file photo shows a French soldier taking position during an evacuation of foreigners during exchanges of fire with jihadists in Gao, northern Mali. Promises of a pullout of France's 4,000 troops in Mali starting next month are looking harder and harder to fulfill. The fighting in rugged mountain terrain is growing tougher and threats of suicide bombings and hostage-takings are getting worse. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay, File)
FILE - This Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014, file photo shows French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian talking with French soldiers from Operation Sangaris, at Mpoko Camp in Bangui, Central African Republic. France will broaden its military presence in Africa's turbulent Sahel region with specialized new outposts to better fight the terror threat from extremist groups such as al-Qaida, the defense minister said Tuesday. In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Jean-Yves Le Drian said France is moving toward a regional counterterrorism approach in former French colonies such as Chad, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File)
FILE - In this July 27, 2013 file photo, a French soldier stands watch behind Malian soldiers during a visit by the head of France's Operation Serval and Mali's army chief of staff to a Malian army base in Kidal, Mali. Eighteen months after France sent troops to Mali for what was meant to be a targeted operation against extremists, they are still there. And instead of leaving, they’re about to expand their mission to fighting terrorism from the Atlantic coast to the Mediterranean. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File)
The nightclub that was attacked by gunmen is seen at rear as armed forces provide security in Bamako, Mali, Saturday, March 7, 2015. A masked gunman sprayed bullets around a nightclub popular with foreigners in Mali’s capital early Saturday, killing at least five people including a French person and a Belgian national, officials and witnesses said. (AP Photo/Harouna Traore)
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Rijke was abducted by extremists in November 2011 from a hostel in Timbuktu along with Swede Johan Gustafsson and South African Stephen Malcolm, who holds dual British citizenship. A German died in the attack. Officials in France and the Netherlands did not say whether there was any news of Gustafsson or Malcolm.

France said Rijke was safely evacuated to a French operating base in Tassalit.

Hostage-taking has proved to be a lucrative business in Mali, other Sahel countries and further afield in the war zone of Syria and Iraq.

Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders said Rijke is being cared for by Dutch embassy staff and troops in Mali, and is doing well under the circumstances.

"This is fantastic news for Sjaak and his family. I'm happy and relieved that this terrible period of uncertainty and sadness has been brought to an end," Koenders said.

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