Mali frees scores of jihadists amid speculations of prisoner swap


MALIAN authorities have released over one hundred alleged or convicted jihadists in a move which may facilitate the liberation of hostages. 

 The jihadists had been freed early Tuesday and over the week-end from prisons located in the centre and north of the country. 

According to the Malian Association for Human Rights, they were held in detention centres in the town of Mopti and the capital, Bamako. 

Reports indicate that the prisoners were flown into the central town of Niono and Tessalit, a town bordering Algeria. 

According to Radio France International’s correspondent in Mali, witnesses saw them get into cars which drove towards the north of Tessalit. RFI claims that, among the freed prisoners, there may be jihadists, from Mali and elsewhere, responsible for attacks in the Sahel region. 

Speculations have been running since this weekend that the released prisoners will help free at least two hostages: 70-year-old Malian opposition politician, Soumaïla Cissé and 75-year-old aid worker, Sophie Petronin. 

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Her son, Sebastien Chadaud, who lives in Switzerland, flew to Paris and should be Bamako on Tuesday, her nephew Lionel Granouillac told AFP. 

Cisse was abducted on 25 March 25 while campaigning in his home region of Niafounke ahead of legislative elections. 

Petronin was abducted by gunmen on 24 December 2016, in the northern city of Gao. 

Moctar Mariko, a lawyer with the Malian Association for Human Rights, told RFI that the release of jihadists prisoners outside all legal frameworks is a slap in the face of their victims. 

“Once freed, they [the jihadists] will be potential enemies of the Malian army as they will continue to lay landmines and kill civilians. Freeing them will only worsen insecurity,” he said.

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