An al Qaeda affiliate based in Mali has released a video of elderly French aid worker Sophie Petronin, who was kidnapped in late 2016.
Petronin ran a charity for malnourished and orphan children and had lived in the city of Gao, in Mali’s volatile northeast, for 15 years when she was snatched and driven away in a pickup truck.
The propaganda video was released by the media wing of Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin, which has been linked to the kidnapping of at least six Western hostages in recent years.
It shows brief footage of Petronin, 72, lying on a cot inside a tent and boxes of medication, while audio of French President Emmanuel Macron saying“I will protect you” plays on a loop.
It was not clear when the footage of Petronin was filmed.
Petronin’s nephew, Arnaud Granouillac, said his aunt’s health appeared to have deteriorated since the last images of her were released in the summer, and accused the French government of abandoning the family.
Granouillac told BFM TV : “She’s exhausted.
“Since the day she was kidnapped, we’ve been on our own. I hope President Emmanuel Macron sees this video and realises we have to get my aunt out of there.”
The French Foreign Ministry declined to comment.
Hours after the video was released, gunmen attacked the army’s headquarters in the capital of Burkina Faso, as well as France’s embassy and the city’s downtown area.
France has special forces fighting Islamist militants in the Sahel based in Burkina Faso, and other troops stationed across the region.
French civilians have long been favored targets for kidnapping by criminal and Islamist groups in the arid West African region, partly owing to perceptions that the French government is prepared to pay ransoms to secure their release.
Since France’s 2013 military intervention drove back al-Qaeda-linked groups that had seized cities and towns in northern Mali a year earlier, Islamist militants have repeatedly declared French citizens in West Africa to be targets.
Attacks by Islamist insurgents are on the rise across the Sahel despite the presence in Mali of a 13,000-strong UN force and the growing involvement of the French and U.S. militaries.
This morning, France’s embassy in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, said it was under attack and urged its citizens to stay where they were.
“Attack under way at the French Embassy and French Institute. Stay hidden where you are,” the embassy said in a statement posted on its Facebook site.
A French official in Paris confirmed that an assault against the embassy was under way, as well as an attack on the Burkina Faso army headquarters.
Earlier, an explosion rocked Burkina Faso’s army headquarters in the capital Ouagadougou on Friday and black smoke could be seen billowing above, a Reuters witness said.
It was not immediately clear what caused the blast.
A witness at the scene told Reuters that masked gunmen with backpacks attacked the army headquarters after the explosion.
A Reuters witness said other smaller explosions came from the headquarters after a first larger blast and that security forces were converging on the scene.
Burkina Faso, like other countries in West Africa, has been targeted sporadically by jihadist groups operating across Africa’s Sahel region.
Suspected jihadists killed at least 18 people in August 2017 during a raid on a restaurant in Ouagadougou and militants have targeted Burkinabe security forces along its remote northern border region with Mali.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for an attack on a restaurant and hotel in Ouagadougou in January 2016 in which 30 people were killed.
Five regional countries launched a new taskforce in 2017 to tackle Islamist militants in the zone, to which international donors have committed a half-billion dollars.