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American aid worker Jeff Woodke, held hostage in Africa for more than 6 years, is freed

Jeff Woodke, an American aid worker who has been held hostage in Africa since 2016, has been freed Monday, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan announced. 

Sullivan tweeted that he is “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,” Sullivan said. “I thank so many across our government who’ve worked tirelessly toward securing his freedom.” 

Woodke was kidnapped from his home in Abalak, Niger, in October 2016 by men who ambushed and killed his guards and forced him at gunpoint into their truck, where he was driven north toward Mali’s border. 

American aid worker Jeff Woodke was detained in October 2016, officials say. He was freed on Monday, March 20, 2023.

American aid worker Jeff Woodke was detained in October 2016, officials say. He was freed on Monday, March 20, 2023. (FBI)

A senior administration official who briefed reporters Monday on Woodke’s release described the action as the culmination of years of efforts but declined to say what exactly led to him being freed from captivity or where he is now. 

The official also said no ransom was paid, and no concessions were made as part of securing the 61-year-old’s release. 

A source close to Woodke told Fox News in 2018 there was some indication that he was straddling the border between Niger and Mali and was being kept alive as something of a “bargaining chip.” 

In an interview with the New York Times, Woodke’s wife Els, of McKinleyville, California, said she was told Jeff is in Niamey, the capital of Niger. 

Els Woodke speaks about the 2016 kidnapping of her husband Jeff Woodke in West Africa during a news conference in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 17, 2021. Jeff Woodke was released on Monday, the Biden administration says.

Els Woodke speaks about the 2016 kidnapping of her husband Jeff Woodke in West Africa during a news conference in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 17, 2021. Jeff Woodke was released on Monday, the Biden administration says. (AP/Cliff Owen)

“He is safe,” she said, adding “I don’t yet know if he is healthy.” 

The FBI previously has said Woodke has worked in Niger for more than 25 years. 

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The identities of Woodke’s captors have not been disclosed. 

In a statement released through a family spokesperson, Els Woodke said she “praises God for answering the prayers of Christians everywhere who have prayed for this outcome,” the Associated Press reported. 

Hollie McKay and the Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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