Breaking News: American Held Hostage in Africa Is Freed

Jeffery Woodke, an American aid worker abducted in Niger by militants, was released after more than six years in captivity.

Jeffery Woodke

By guest authors Eric Schmitt and Adam Goldman from the New York Times. Eric Schmitt is a senior writer who has traveled the world covering terrorism and national security. He was also the Pentagon correspondent. A member of the Times staff since 1983, he has shared four Pulitzer Prizes. Adam Goldman reports on the F.B.I. and national security from Washington, D.C., and is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. He is the coauthor of “Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD’s Secret Spying Unit and bin Laden’s Final Plot Against America.”

Rukmini Callimachi contributed to this story.

March 20, 2023

WASHINGTON — An American aid worker abducted by militants more than six years ago in West Africa has been freed, his wife and a senior military official said on Monday, but the circumstances of his release were not immediately clear.

The aid worker, Jeffery Woodke, was kidnapped in Niger in October 2016 and then was believed to have been taken to neighboring Mali.

His wife, Els Woodke, of McKinleyville, Calif., said the United States government had notified her that her husband had been freed. She said she was told that he was in Niamey, the capital of Niger.

“He is safe,” she said in a phone interview. “I don’t yet know if he is healthy.”

A U.S. official confirmed that Mr. Woodke was in Niamey and said he was being medically evaluated.

A French security official confirmed that another hostage had also been released: Olivier Dubois, a French journalist who went missing in Mali in April 2021, and was later seen in a hostage video issued by an affiliate of Al Qaeda there.

His release ends of an arduous ordeal for Mr. Woodke in which U.S. officials believed at times that a dangerous military operation would have been required to free him. There is no indication that the U.S. mounted such a rescue.

But Mr. Woodke’s kidnapping played a role in a fatal ambush of American soldiers in West Africa.

In October 2017, American soldiers raced to a location in the scrubland of Niger after intelligence officials intercepted a signal from the cellphone of a terrorist known as Doundoun Cheffou, a senior lieutenant of a former affiliate of Al Qaeda that had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

Mr. Cheffou was being tracked by American intelligence agencies both because of his seniority in the terrorist group and because he was suspected of having played a role in Mr. Woodke’s kidnapping.

The nighttime raid failed to find Mr. Cheffou, but hours later four of the Americans were killed in an ambush near the village of Tongo Tongo.