Freed Malian politician Soumaila Cisse, French aid worker Sophie Petronin and two Italians arrived in Bamako on Thursday aboard a Malian military transport plane, ending their lengthy captivity in the hands of Islamist insurgents.
They were greeted by jubilant scenes on the tarmac at Bamako airport, with Petronin’s son Sebastian Chadaud-Petronin picking her up and crying out: “Mama! Mama! Mama! Mama!” videos and photographs shared on social media showed.
Cisse hugged a relative and later entered a vehicle as supporters chanted his name.
Their release, announced earlier by Mali’s presidency, follows a tense few days as reports that Malian authorities had freed scores of suspected militants over the weekend fuelled expectations of an imminent prisoner swap.
It was unclear whether or not a ransom was paid.
The Malian government said in a statement that the release was obtained thanks to efforts by Mali security services, and international partners, but gave no further details.
Cisse, 70, a popular politician who served as finance minister in the 1990s, was kidnapped by gunmen while campaigning for legislative elections in the northern region of Timbuktu in March.
Petronin, 75, who ran a charity for malnourished and orphaned children, was abducted near the northern city of Gao in late 2016.
“Sophie Pétronin is free. Held hostage for nearly 4 years in Mali, her release is a great relief,” said French President Emmanuel Macron on Twitter.
Italy’s foreign ministry praised the collaboration between their intelligence and government personnel and Malian authorities.
The release is a significant victory for Mali’s interim leadership who are overseeing an 18-month transition back to civilian rule after the Aug. 18 overthrow of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.