An 83-year-old American nun, who was kidnapped by gunmen in northern Burkina Faso in April, has been rescued. Many believe her release was part of a U.S. forces’ special operations rescue mission.
Sister Suellen Tennyson, who is from Louisiana and belongs to the Order of the Marianites of the Holy Cross, was released earlier this week, her Order confirmed.
“Yes, it is true! Sr. Suellen has been recovered!” the Marianites wrote on Facebook. “She is now safe and in U.S. custody. We (Srs. Ann & Renée) continue to work with the FBI to facilitate her re-entry process.”
“She is safe,” Marianite Sr. Ann Lacour, congregational leader of the Marianites, told Clarion Herald. “She is on American soil, but not in America. She is safe. She was recovered (Monday) morning. We have spoken to her. She eventually will get back to the United States.”
Sr. Ann added, “She’s totally worn out. I told her how much people love her, and she doesn’t have anything to worry about. I told her, ‘You are alive and safe. That’s all that matters.’”
It's believed that a rescue operation was carried out to secure her release. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff mentioned the rescue mission during a change of command ceremony on Tuesday, saying, “And most recently, in the last 48 hours, they recovered another hostage,” Military.com reported.
A spokesman for U.S. Africa Command also confirmed that a rescue mission to recover a U.S. citizen held captive in West Africa was carried out the same day, Military.com said.
“On the afternoon of August 29, U.S. Africa Command personnel facilitated the safe turnover of an American citizen who had been held hostage by terrorists in a remote area of West Africa,” Lt. Cmdr. Timothy S. Pietrack, a spokesman for AFRICOM, was quoted as saying. “U.S. Africa Command would like to thank all of our African and international partners who provided excellent cooperation over the months leading up to this recovery, in particular, the government of Niger, who were critical to this effort.”
Sr. Suellen, a New Orleans native, had been serving as a pastoral minister in Burkina Faso since 2014 and also supported the people that worked in the clinic run by the parish in Yalgo, according to Vatican News.
On April 5, when Sr. Suellen was with two other Marianite nuns at the convent, a group of about 10 gunmen barged in, destroyed some of their belongings and kidnapped Sr. Suellen.
Once considered relatively peaceful, Burkina Faso has seen an exponential rise in Islamic terrorism since 2016, which has also led to the displacement of over 1.5 million people.
The rise of extremism in Burkina Faso has caused international concern, with the U.N. vowing in 2020 to step up its response after displacement in Burkina Faso rose 1,200% in 2019.
Both Muslims and Christians bear the brunt of Islamic extremism in Burkina Faso. According to the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures Project, Christians comprise just over 20% of Burkina Faso’s population, while Muslims make up over 60%.
In its “Persecution Trends 2022” report, Release International said, “The situation facing Christians in Burkina Faso is now similar to Nigeria,” where terror groups like Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province have killed thousands and displaced millions.
In 2021, jihadis targeted Christians in the north of Burkina Faso, forcing churches to close and meet in secret, the report noted. The attacks ranged from bombings, killings, kidnappings and school burnings to assaults on religious leaders and places of worship.
Pressure in the region is likely to continue in 2022, particularly following the drawdown of French troops in the area, Release International warned.