An American aid worker was freed Monday after being kidnapped in Niger over six years ago, the Biden Administration announced.
Jeffery Woodke, 61, was freed March 20 after being kidnapped from his home in Abalak, Niger, in October 2016. He was taken north towards Mali, The Hill reported. Woodke, a missionary and aid-worker, lived in Niger for 32 years before being taken captive by armed assailants, the outlet stated.
“I’m gratified & relieved to see the release of U.S. hostage Jeff Woodke after over 6 years in captivity. The U.S. thanks Niger for its help in bringing him home to all who miss & love him. I thank so many across our government who’ve worked tirelessly toward securing his freedom,” Biden administration national security adviser Jake Sullivan tweeted.
— The Hill (@thehill) March 20, 2023
In Oct. 2022, it was announced that the kidnappers, reportedly believed to be part of a West African affiliate of al-Qaida known as JNIM, had demanded a multi-million dollar ransom to secure Woodke’s release, the Associated Press reported at the time. That demand left Woodke’s wife, Els, frustrated as she claimed she was limited on what she could raise for her husband’s release due to U.S. government-imposed limitations.
“I have also had so many restrictions imposed by the U.S. government that any meaningful attempt to raise a ransom is effectively prohibited,” she told the AP at the time.
A U.S. official confirmed that though it is U.S. policy to deny payments to hostage takers, that policy “does not preclude the United States government from helping hostage families with private efforts to communicate with hostage takers,” the outlet stated. (RELATED: Egypt Releases American Aid Worker From Prison After Trump Strikes A Deal)
In a statement released Monday through a spokesman, Els Woodke confirmed her husband’s release and revealed that although she had not yet had the chance to speak with him, she was informed he was in good condition.
“She praises God for answering the prayers of Christians everywhere who have prayed for this outcome,” the statement read.
Though officials initially believed the kidnappers were part of JNIM, the Biden Administration did not specify which group was responsible for Woodke’s capture, noting there are multiple overlapping hostage-taking groups in that part of West Africa.