A Catholic priest kidnapped two years ago in Niger by jihadists has been released along with three other hostages.
Fr Pierluigi Maccalli, an Italian member of the Society of African Missions, had been held hostage for a total of 753 days.
The announcement came on Thursday from the office of the president of Mali, who mediated the release.
As part of the agreement, the jihadist group also released fellow Italian, Nicola Chiacchio, the prominent Malian politician Soumaïla Cissé, and a 75-year-old French aid worker, Sophie Petronin, who had herself been held for a total of four years.
A video that surfaced in April of this year revealed that both Fr Maccalli and Nicola Chiacchio were still alive and being held captive.
Upon news of the release, the Society of African Missions said that they “give thanks to God for the release from captivity of Fr Pierluigi” but added that the Society would “continue to pray for the other hostages who are still in the hands of kidnappers”.
Though Fr Maccalli was freed in Mali, he was originally abducted near the west Niger village of Bomoanga, where he was popular amongst locals for his work providing microloans to community projects and his criticism of female circumcision.
Jihadists returned to the site of his kidnapping earlier this year to remove a prominent hillside cross where locals, Muslims and Christians alike, had begun to gather together in prayer.
Image: Photo of Fr Maccalli performing a baptism in Niger, courtesy of the Society of African Missions.
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