Australian Doctor, 88, Released by Al-Qaeda Militants After Seven Years in Captivity
An Australian doctor, 88, who had been held hostage by al-Qaeda militants in West Africa for over seven years, has been freed. Dr. Kenneth Elliott has been safely reunited with his family, according to Australia’s foreign minister.
Dr. Elliott and his wife were abducted in 2016 near the Mali-Burkina Faso border, where they had been operating a clinic for over four decades. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb had claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.
While Dr. Elliott’s wife, Jocelyn, was released after three weeks following public pressure and directives from al-Qaeda leaders not to involve women in warfare, the elderly doctor remained in captivity.
“After spending many years away from home, Dr. Elliott, at 88 years of age, now requires time and privacy to rest and regain his strength. We appreciate your understanding and support,” his family stated in a released statement.
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong expressed admiration for the resilience demonstrated by Dr. Elliott and his family throughout the arduous ordeal. She extended gratitude to Australian officials who had worked tirelessly over the years to secure his release and provide support to his family.
Originally from Perth, Dr. Elliott and his wife operated a 120-bed clinic in the town of Dijbo in Burkina Faso, with Dr. Elliott being the sole surgeon. Local residents initiated a Facebook campaign to raise awareness and advocate for their release following their abduction.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and other extremist groups in North and West Africa frequently employ kidnapping for ransom as a means to generate funds. AQIM, rooted in Algeria’s tumultuous civil war in the 1990s, operates across the Sahel region south of the Sahara Desert, including Mali and Burkina Faso.
France, the former colonial occupier, deployed 5,000 troops to Mali in 2013 to combat AQIM and its allies. In 2020, the French military killed AQIM leader Abdelmalek Droukdel. However, due to growing disapproval in Mali towards the French military operation, France withdrew its troops last year.