88-year-old Australian doctor freed 7 years after kidnapping by Islamic extremists in West Africa


Canberra (AP) — An 88-year-old Australian doctor held captive by Islamic extremists in West Africa for more than seven years has been freed and has returned to Australia.

Ken Elliott was safe and well and was reunited with his wife and their children on Thursday night, Foreign Minister Penny Wong said.

“I’m very pleased to advise that Dr. Ken Elliott, who’s been held hostage in Western Africa for some seven years, has been reunited in Australia with his family,” Wong told reporters in Sydney.

Elliott and his wife were kidnapped in Burkina Faso, where they had run a medical clinic for four decades. Jocelyn Elliott was released three weeks later.

“We wish to express our thanks to God and all who have continued to pray for us,” Elliott’s family said in a statement released by Wong’s department.

“We express our relief that Dr. Elliott is free and thank the Australian government and all who have been involved over time to secure his release,” the family statement said.

Wong said no ransom was paid to secure Elliott’s freedom, but no other details on his release were disclosed. Media reported he was reunited with his family in Perth, the west coast city where he is from.

“At 88 years of age, and after many years away from home, Dr. Elliott now needs time and privacy to rest and rebuild strength,” the family added.

The militant group behind the kidnapping, Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, rose to prominence in large part through kidnap-for-ransom operations targeting foreign aid workers and tourists.

On the day the Australian couple were kidnapped — Jan. 15, 2016 — 30 people were killed in an extremist attack in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou. Al-Qaida’s North Africa wing claimed responsibility for that attack and other high-profile strikes in West Africa months earlier, including killing 20 people in an attack on a hotel in Mali’s capital Bamako.

The Elliotts were kidnapped near the northern Burkina Faso town of Djibo, near the border with Mali and Niger.

Jocelyn Elliott was freed in neighboring Niger. Niger’s then-President Mahamadou Issoufou had worked with Burkina Faso intelligence services to secure her release, his office said at the time.

Australia had not paid ransom to secure Ken Elliott’s release, Wong said.

“The Australian government has a clear policy that we do not pay ransoms,” Wong said.

“What we have done over the last seven years is ensure that we worked with other governments and local authorities in relation to Dr. Elliott,” she added.

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