Australian doctor released after 7 years by Islamic terrorists

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CANBERRA (AP) By Dr. Majid Khan  An 88-year-old Australian doctor who was held captive by Islamic extremists in West Africa for more than seven years has been released and returned to Australia.

Secretary of State Penny Wong said Ken Elliott was safe and well and was reunited with his wife and children on Thursday night.

“I am very pleased to announce that Dr. Ken Elliott, who was held hostage in West Africa for almost seven years, has been reunited with his family in Australia,” Wong told reporters in Sydney.

The Elliots, who ran a clinic in Burkina Faso for 40 years, were kidnapped. Jocelyn Elliott was released after three weeks. “We would like to thank God and everyone who has continued to pray for us,” Elliott’s family said in a statement released by Wong’s department.

“We are so relieved that Dr. Elliott has been released and we thank the Australian Government and everyone who has campaigned for his release over the years,” said the family.

Wong said no ransom was paid to secure Elliot’s freedom, but no further details about his release were provided. Media reports said he was reunited with his family in his native West Coast city of Perth.

“After being 88 years old and away from home for years, Dr. Elliott now has time and privacy to rest and recuperate,” the family added. Al-Qaeda, the Islamic Maghreb militant group behind the kidnappings, is best known for kidnappings for ransom against foreign aid workers and tourists.

Thirty people were killed in a militant attack in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou on January 15, 2016, the day an Australian couple were kidnapped. Al Qaeda’s North Africa arm has claimed responsibility for this attack and other high-profile attacks in West Africa months ago that killed 20 people in a hotel raid in Mali’s capital Bamako.

The Elliotts were kidnapped near the town of Zibo in northern Burkina Faso, near the Mali-Niger border. Jocelyn Elliott was released in neighboring Niger. At the time, Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou worked with Burkina Faso’s secret services to secure his release, his office said at the time.

Wong said Australia did not pay the ransom to secure Ken Elliott’s release.

“The Australian government has a clear policy of not paying the ransom,” Wong said.

“Over the past seven years, in our relationship with Dr. Elliott, we have worked with other governments and local authorities,” she added.