The body of a Swiss woman who was held hostage for more than five years by an extremist Islamic group in Mali has been found and identified, the Malian foreign ministry said this week.
Members of the International Committee of the Red Cross delivered unidentified remains to Malian authorities Saturday.
DNA taken from the remains revealed the body is that of Swiss national Beatrice Stoeckli, who was kidnapped in Timbuktu five years ago, the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Stoeckli, a Christian missionary, was held by the Al Qaida-linked group Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam Muslimeen, also known as JNIM. After a brief abduction and release in 2012, Stoeckli was again kidnapped in January 2016 by militants who invaded her home in Timbuktu.
In 2017, JNIM released a proof-of-life video showing Stoeckli and other hostages, according to SITE Intelligence Group, an organiSation that monitors jihadist communications. But last October, Switzerland’s Foreign Ministry said it was informed by French authorities that Stoeckli had been killed by the kidnappers.
Last October, the Swiss government said that the evangelical missionary had been killed after a French charity worker, who had also been held hostage in 2016 but was released in 2020, provided inside information.
Sophie Petronin, 75, said that Stöckli had been shot dead about a month before her release, after she refused to cooperate with her kidnappers who were travelling through the Sahara in order to avoid the authorities.
In a statement, the Swiss Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis said: “Sadly, we now have definitive evidence that the woman who was held hostage is dead.
“But I am also relieved that we can return the woman’s remains to her family and I would like to pass on my deepest condolences to them. I also wish to thank the Malian authorities for their assistance in helping to identify the body.”
Mali has been in turmoil since a 2012 uprising prompted mutinous soldiers to overthrow the president. The power vacuum that resulted ultimately led to an Islamic insurgency and a French-led war that ousted the jihadists from power in 2013.
But insurgents remain active and extremist groups affiliated with Al Qaida and the Islamic State group have moved from the arid north to more populated central Mali since 2015, stoking animosity and violence between ethnic groups in the region.
(AP & AFP)