French hostage freed in Mali arrives home in France

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France President Emmanuel Macron, right, stands as Sophie Petronin, center, a French aid worker held hostages for four years by Islamic extremists in Mali, is greeted by relatives upon her arrival at the Villacoublay military airport near Paris, Friday Oct. 9, 2020. Sophie Petronin was released with three other hostages from Mali and Italy this week. Before leaving Mali's capital, she said she was doing well and wanted to return to Mali to resume her humanitarian work with malnourished children and orphans.(Gonzalo Fuentes, Pool Photo via AP)

BAMAKO – A 75-year-old French aid worker held hostage for four years by Islamic extremists in Mali was reunited Friday with her grandchildren in France, as relatives also welcomed home two Italians and a Malian politician freed with her this week.

They were released earlier this week, days after the Malian government freed nearly 200 Islamic militants in an apparent prisoner exchange.

But the homecoming was muted by the announcement later Friday that a Swiss woman held captive by the same extremist group had been killed. Swiss officials said Beatrice Stoeckli, whose release they had quietly been trying to negotiate since she was kidnapped four years ago, was killed about a month ago. They said they received the information from French authorities, who were notified by “the recently released French hostage.”

“It was with great sadness that I learned of the death of our fellow citizen,” Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis said in a statement. “I condemn this cruel act and express my deepest sympathy to the relatives.”

Earlier Friday, 75-year-old French aid worker Sophie Petronin descended from a plane at the Villacoublay military airport southwest of Paris, where she was greeted by French President Emmanuel Macron.

Wearing a white veil and a trench coat, Petronin held her grandsons in her arms.

“The French and I are glad to see you back at last, dear Sophie Petronin,” Macron tweeted. “Welcome home.”

Petronin met with Macron for about an hour at the airport. They did not speak to the press.