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French forces rescue Dutch hostage in the north of Mali

French special forces have rescued a Dutch train driver taken hostage nearly four years ago in Mali by Al-Qaeda’s north African arm in an operation that killed several jihadists.

France’s defence ministry said Sjaak Rijke, kidnapped in Timbuktu in November 2011, was freed on Monday during “military action carried out by the French army’s special forces”.

French forces were conducting a dawn raid against Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in Tessalit in Mali’s far north when they stumbled upon the Dutch hostage.

“It was a surprise, for our forces to be able to free this hostage because we did not have information” about his presence, French President Francois Hollande told journalists.

Hollande said the hostage was “as well as possible after four years of captivity”.

Rijke has now been transported to a safe location.

Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders said it was extraordinary news for Sjaak and his family, adding that he was “happy and grateful that this horrible period of uncertainty and distress is over”.

Rijke, 55, was on a dream trip crossing the Sahara when he was kidnapped.

In November Rijke’s captors issued a video of him along with French national Serge Lazarevic.

Lazarevic, held captive in the Sahara for three years, was released the following month in exchange for four Islamist militants with ties to Al-Qaeda in north Africa.

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