A German missionary priest who was abducted in Mali over a year ago has been released and returned to Germany, officials say.
Father Hans-Joachim Lohre, 66, who was abducted on Nov. 20, 2022, was released on Sunday and was on a plane heading back to Germany, an official with the Archdiocese of Bamako told AFP.
A Malian government official and two church officials confirmed Lohre's release, the Vatican's Fides news agency reports, adding that the details surrounding his release are unclear. Although no group claimed responsibility for Lohre's abduction, diplomatic and security sources attributed it to the al-Qaeda-linked Jama'at Nasr al-Islam.
Lohre has lived in the country for over 30 years, taught at the Islamic-Christian Training Institute and helped run the Faith and Encounter Center in Hamdallaye. He had planned to attend a commemoratory mass in the Malian capital of Bamako when he disappeared.
His car was reported as being left parked outside his home, and calls to his phone went straight to voicemail.
In the West African country, jihadi insurgencies led by groups linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are known for carrying out abductions and committing atrocities.
According to an October report from the Institute for Security Studies, more than 180 kidnappings were recorded in the Sahel countries of Mali and Burkina Faso in the first half of 2023.
Mali ranks as the 17th worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution on Open Doors' 2023 World Watch List.
Over the last decade, Islamic extremist groups have taken control of northern Mali, burned down churches and forced out the Christian population, Open Doors notes.
Christians in northern Mali live under the threat of violent attacks.
"Militant Islamic extremists abduct people, including Christians, and kill them or keep them in sexual slavery," an Open Doors report warns. "Others are put under pressure to join the groups, where they will be forcibly converted to Islam and made to fight. Some Christian parents send their sons away to safer areas to try to protect them."
In 2021, a Catholic priest and four others had been kidnapped and eventually reported as having been freed by their kidnappers in Mali.
The victims were identified as Fr. Léon Douyon, the parish priest of Ségué; Thimothé Somboro, the village chief of Ségué; Pascal Somboro, deputy mayor; and two other members of the community, Emmanuel Somboro and Boutié Tolofoudié.
Gunmen reportedly drove the five victims to the village of Parou within the Diocese of Mopti in central Mali and dropped them off at a roadside three days after kidnapping them, Catholic News Service reported.
Kidnappings in Mali are typically carried out for ransom money or to exert political pressure on the government.
In April of 2021, the body of Beatrice Stockli, an evangelical missionary from Switzerland who was held captive by extremists in Mali affiliated with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb since January 2016, was discovered.
Stockli was initially abducted in 2012 and was released 10 days later after mediation led by neighboring Burkina Faso.
The missionary left Mali because she was asked by her family. However, she returned even though the Swiss government warned her to avoid going there.
And in 2016, she was dragged from her home another time by armed men in four pickup trucks.
Nicole Alcindor is a reporter for The Christian Post.