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Johan Gustafsson: Swede held by al-Qaeda in Mali freed

شعار Al Jazeera Al Jazeera 26/06/2017
A picture of freed hostage Johan Gustafsson and his family at Arlanda airport after his arrival in Sweden [Marcus Ericsson via Reuters] © Provided by Al Jazeera A picture of freed hostage Johan Gustafsson and his family at Arlanda airport after his arrival in Sweden [Marcus Ericsson via Reuters]

A Swede who had been held hostage by al-Qaeda in Mali since 2011 has been freed, the Swedish government has announced.

Johan Gustafsson returned home and was reunited with his family, Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom told reporters late on Monday as she showed a picture of the ex-captive surrounded by his relatives.

RELATED: Dutch hostage rescued by French troops in Mali

"I welcomed him home, and I can say that he is in good health and is holding up well, given the circumstances," she said.

Wallstrom refused to provide details about how Sweden secured Gustafsson's release, saying only that it occurred "a couple of days ago" and was the result of "several years of efforts" by police, politicians and diplomats, as well as Swedish and international authorities.

She also did not comment on whether a ransom was paid. She said only that "Sweden's policy is to not pay ransoms in the event of kidnappings".

'Malian officials helped'

A Malian security source meanwhile told the AFP news agency that officials in the West African country had "helped secure the release of the Swedish hostage. He was released in the Mali desert".

Gustafsson, 42, was abducted in Timbuktu, northern Mali, in November 2011 along with South African national Stephen McGown and Dutchman Sjaak Rijke.

There was no immediate word on the fate of McGown. Rijke had been freed in 2015 by French special forces.

Gustafsson was on a motorcycle trip from Sweden to South Africa when he was kidnapped.

He, Rijke and McGown were seized along with several others by a group of armed men while on the terrace of their hotel.

Rijke's wife managed to escape, but a German who tried to resist the abduction was killed.

Al-Qaeda's North African affiliate, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), claimed responsibility for the kidnappings.

It was one of several groups that took control of Mali's north in 2012 before being overthrown by a French-led military operation launched in January 2013.

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