“I'm fine, I've seen the doctor and I don't have any health problems, I've lost a little weight. Well, four lower teeth, so I'll go to the dentist. " These were the reassuring words that the French-Swiss citizen Sophie Pétronin, 75, said to the journalists who were waiting for her Thursday night in Bamako, capital of Mali, after almost four years kidnapped by the jihadists and a liberation with suspense. Beside her was her son Sébastien Chadaud, who moments before was shouting "Mom, mom!" while hugging her upon arrival at the Malian airport runway. “In the bottom of my heart, I knew that I was not going to die. I told myself that, above all, I did not have to give importance to death because you do not know where, when or how it will arrive, "she added.
Pétronin is already in France, where she traveled this Friday on a Falcon plane provided by the French Government and where she was received at the foot of the Villacoublay air base by President Emmanuel Macron and members of his family, with who has melted into a long and emotional embrace. “The French are happy with me to finally see you here, dear Sophie Pétronin. Welcome home ”, the French president later wrote on Twitter along with a photograph taken on the track.
During her captivity, this woman with a fragile appearance but with a firm and determined character, according to what they say from her surroundings, was transferred from one camp to another by her captors and, at each stop, she kept the promise she had made to her grandson: she would collect small desert stones for his aquarium, according to journalist Anthony Fouchard, who has been in close contact with the family all these years. "The jihadists accepted it and appointed one of them to carry the bag, which after three and a half years should have weighed a bit," wrote the reporter on Twitter with humor these days.
"I will go to France and Switzerland and then I will return to see a little what happens here," Pétronin told reporters Thursday night in Bamako, making clear his intention to return to Gao, the Malian city where he has resided since 2001. and where he started an association to help children with malnutrition. She was kidnapped right there in 2016. “I got engaged for those children and it's been four years since I have seen our programs develop. If you commit yourself, you have to go to the end, otherwise you have lost your reason for being alive ", added Pétronin to the shock of his son, who later clarified that he would do so in conditions of" total safety ".
The ex-hostage wanted to detract from the drama of her long captivity: “It was fine, the air was healthy, good (…) I adapted, I stood firm, I prayed a lot because I had a lot of time, I walked, ate and drank well, even fresh water! "Said Pétronin, who pointed out that he managed to transform his almost four years of kidnapping into a kind of" spiritual retreat. " “I am going to pray for Mali, ask for the blessings and mercy of Allah because I am Muslim. You call me Sophie, but it is Mariam that you have in front of you ”, he added, without specifying whether he professed this religion before the captivity. He also dedicated a few public words to his son Sébastien: “I have caused you a lot of problems, work and hardships to help me get out of where I was. With all my heart I ask your forgiveness, "he said.
In addition to Pétronin, this Thursday night also landed in Bamako, after being freed by his kidnappers, the Malian political leader Soumaïla Cissé, kidnapped in Timbuktu last March while campaigning for the legislative elections, and two Italian citizens, the missionary Pier Luigi Maccalli and the young Nicola Chiacchio. The first was captured in Niger two years ago when he was in his parish and the second in Mali a year and a half ago. Both are already in Italy. These four releases, however, have a difficult counterpart for a part of public opinion, both Malian and French, to assume: the release of at least 200 suspected jihadists who in recent days were transferred to the north of the country by plane.
Although the authorities have not confirmed it and the identity of the alleged terrorists released is unknown, various sources have confirmed that they were part of the negotiation, at least that related to Soumaïla Cissé, which was later extended to the other three hostages. Iyad Ag Ghali himself, the leader of the Al Qaeda branch operating in Mali, boasted of this in a statement. This places France, which has always expressed its reluctance to negotiate with terrorists but thanked Bamako for releasing Pétronin, in an uncomfortable situation, especially considering that 45 French soldiers have lost their lives in the Sahel since 2014 fighting against jihadism.
The release of the four hostages coincides with the lifting of the sanctions imposed on Mali by the Economic Commission of West African States and the African Union after the military coup on August 18. The appointment, last Monday, of a government with a civil majority, although also made up of four military personnel, and the release of the authorities who were detained after the putsch it has been the final step in this process. The European Union has also announced its intention to reinstate the training mission to the Malian Army, interrupted after the coup. From now on, the transitional government has 18 months to organize free and democratic elections.