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French forces rescue Dutch hostage Rijke from AQIM in Mali

Sjaak Rijke has been freed after nearly four years of captivity by a French military operation in the far north of Mali. Several militants have also been captured, the French defense ministry has said in a statement.

Rijke was kidnapped on November 25, 2011, in Timbuktu. He was rescued at 5 a.m. (0600 UTC) on Monday and safely evacuated to a French operations base in Tassalit, the ministry said.

One day before Rijke was kidnapped, Franco-Serbian Serge Lazarevic was kidnapped from Timbuktu. He was released a couple of weeks later.

The day after Lazarevic's kidnapping, another three Europeans were kidnapped from a hotel by

al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) militants

, among them Sjaak Rijke from The Netherlands. A fourth man from Germany was killed during the hostage-taking.

Stephen Malcolm of Britain - who also holds a South African passport - and Swede Johan Gustafson are believed to still be in the hands of the AQIM militants. They were shown - together with Rijke - in a video broadcast by Al-Jazeera television in August 2012, as well as in a video which a Mauritanian press agency claimed to possess in September 2013.

On November 17, 2014, AQIM released extra video footage of the long-released Lazarevic, but with a bearded man who could be identified as Rijke. In the video, Rijke spoke in English and referred to the occasion marking the 1,000th day of his capture.

French President Francois Hollande commented a day after the fresh footage that such films of "extreme horror" could influence young people in France and elsewhere in Europe to join the militants.

After Mali was overrun by al Qaeda-linked Islamic extremists,

around 3,000 French troops are taking part in the mission of stabilizing the country

.

ac/kms (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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