French troops free aid workers kidnapped in northern Mali

An Islamist rebel is pictured on near Timbuktu, in rebel-held northern Mali Image copyright AFP
Image caption Islamist militants controlled the town of Gao between April 2012 and January 2013

French troops in Mali have freed five aid workers who were kidnapped in the north of the country in February.

The five were released in a raid near the northern town of Timbuktu and were in good health, the French and Malian presidents said in a joint statement.

Four of those captured worked for the Red Cross. At the time it was reported that they were kidnapped by the Mujao Islamist militant group.

Mujao was among the militant groups ousted from northern towns last year.

France led the military intervention but attacks by al-Qaeda-linked insurgents have continued in Mali's vast northern region.

'Terrorist group'

The five aid workers went missing while travelling in a 4x4 vehicle from Kidal to Gao on 8 February.

The statement released on Thursday said they had been seized by a "terrorist group" but did not give any further details.

Islamist militants controlled the town of Gao between April 2012 and January 2013.

In the statement, Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita expressed his "deep gratitude... for France's commitment to Mali since 2013", according to AFP news agency.

The two presidents vowed to continue fighting "terrorism, organised crime and drug trafficking" in the Sahel region of Africa, the report said.

Mali descended into chaos two years ago when a Tuareg rebellion in northern Mali triggered a military coup.

This allowed Islamist militants to take over territory which they held for nearly a year until French and West African forces intervened.

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