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Swedish government announces release of hostage in Mali

Associated Press logo Associated Press 26/06/2017 By BABA AHMED, Associated Press
Swedish Foreign Minister, Margot Wallstrom, smiles in front of a picture of freed hostage Johan Gustafsson, centre, and his family at Arlanda airport after his arrival in Sweden on Monday afternoon, during a press conference about the release of Sweden's Johan Gustafsson who was kidnapped in Mali by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in 2011, at the government headquarters in Stockholm, Sweden, Monday, June 26, 2017. Gustafsson was flown back to Sweden where he arrived Monday afternoon. (Marcus Ericsson /TT via AP) © The Associated Press Swedish Foreign Minister, Margot Wallstrom, smiles in front of a picture of freed hostage Johan Gustafsson, centre, and his family at Arlanda airport after his arrival in Sweden on Monday afternoon, during a press conference about the release of Sweden's Johan Gustafsson who was kidnapped in Mali by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in 2011, at the government headquarters in Stockholm, Sweden, Monday, June 26, 2017. Gustafsson was flown back to Sweden where he arrived Monday afternoon. (Marcus Ericsson /TT via AP)

BAMAKO, Mali — A Swedish man kidnapped by Islamic militants in northern Mali nearly six years ago has been released from captivity, the Swedish government confirmed Monday.

There was no immediate word on the fate of a second hostage, from South Africa, who was also seized in Timbuktu.

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom announced the release of Johan Gustafsson — who had been on a motorcycle tour through Africa — without giving details on what had finally led to his freedom, leaving also open whether the Nordic country's government paid a ransom in exchange for his freedom.

Gustafsson, 42, was flown to Stockholm on a special Swedish government plane later Monday but he did not appear before media.

Following his arrival, Wallstrom said during a news conference that Gustafsson was set free "a few days ago" but declined to give any details on the negotiations except to say that "diplomacy and police work" along with tight international cooperation led to his release.

"The Swedish policy is not to pay ransom in connection with kidnappings," Wallstrom said, referring to her government's general guideline, but refused to take questions on Gustafsson's case.

There was no immediate word on the fate of Stephen McGown, the South African hostage. A third foreigner had been freed in 2015 by French special forces.

The kidnapping of Gustafsson — who Wallstrom said was the longest-held Swedish kidnapping victim "in the modern history of Sweden" — took place in November 2011 as Islamic extremism was gaining a foothold in northern Mali.

Not long after, jihadi groups seized control of the major towns, including Timbuktu, and began enforcing their harsh interpretation of Shariah law.

The extremists were forced from their strongholds in early 2013 by a French-led military operation but continue to launch attacks on peacekeepers and Malian forces.

French hostages held in the region were released through a series of operations but Gustafsson and McGown had languished in captivity.

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Associated Press writer Jari Tanner in Helsinki, Finland, contributed.

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