A Catholic priest and four other people have been freed by their kidnappers in Mali. In the West African country, jihadi insurgencies led by groups linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are known for carrying out abductions and committing atrocities.

Altar servers are seen during a procession before the liturgy in the occasion of the National Pilgrimage in Kita on November 22, 2020. Since 1966, when the bishops of Mali decided to make Kita the site of a National Pilgrimage, the faithful made the journey to the holy sanctuary of Kita where the statue venerated as Notre Dame de Mali is situated. The central theme of this year’s gathering is the reconciliation of Mali and the freedom of Sister Gloria, kidnapped three years before in Sikasso. | MICHELE CATTANI/AFP via Getty Images

Gunmen drove the five victims to the village of Parou within the Diocese of Mopti in central Mali and dropped them off at a roadside last Wednesday, three days after kidnapping them, Catholic News Service reported.

The victims were identified as Fr. Léon Douyon, the parish priest of Ségué; Thimothé Somboro, the village chief of Ségué; Pascal Somboro, deputy mayor; and two other members of the community, Emmanuel Somboro and Boutié Tolofoudié.

Gov. Major Abass Dembélé of the Mopti region said that the kidnappers freed the captives after their vehicle broke down not far from Mali’s border with Burkina Faso and “local Dogon and Fulani notables” mediated for the release of the hostages.

The five were abducted as they were traveling to the funeral of a priest, Fr. Oscar Thera, in the town of San.

Kidnappings in Mali are usually carried out for ransom money or to exert political pressure on the government.

In April, the body of Beatrice Stockli, an evangelical missionary from Switzerland who was held captive by extremists in Mali affiliated with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb since January 2016, was found.

Stockli was initially kidnapped in 2012 but was released 10 days later after mediation led by neighboring Burkina Faso. The missionary left Mali after being asked to do so by her family. However, she soon returned even though the Swiss government warned her not to.

She was dragged from her home again in 2016 by armed men in four pickup trucks.

“Beatrice Stockli is a Swiss nun who declared war against Islam in her attempt to Christianize Muslims,” a masked speaker with a British accent, who claimed responsibility for her kidnapping on behalf of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, said in a video at the time.

The jihadi group wanted their jailed fighters in Mali and one of the group’s leaders detained at the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands, to be freed in exchange for Stockli’s release. Additionally, the extremists demanded that Stockli never return to a Muslim land to preach about Christ.

Sister Gloria Cecilia Narváez Argoti, a member of the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary Immaculate, was kidnapped in southern Mali in 2017. She is still believed to be held by extremists affiliated with al-Qaeda.

Last October, a Catholic priest held hostage for years in Mali was released along with three others by extremists linked to al-Qaeda.

Mali is ranked as the 28th-worst country in the world for Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s 2021 World Watch List.

The organization, which monitors persecution in over 60 countries, reports that many Christians were forced to flee after Islamic extremists took control of northern Mali in 2012. While many have returned under police protection, evangelistic activities in northern Mali are “especially risky” since they can lead to attacks and abductions. 

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