Italian hostages freed in Mali

Italians had been abducted by Islamist extremists in Mali.

Italy's premier Giuseppe Conte has welcomed the release of two Italians who had been held hostage by Al Qaida-linked Islamist extremists in Mali.

Father Pierluigi Maccalli, a priest and missionary, was taken prisoner in September 2018 from his parish in Niamey, Niger, close to the Burkina Faso border, while Nicola Chiacchio was captured during a vacation in central Mali in 2019.

It is believed that the two men were held by the same extremists, after they appeared together in a 24-second video published in April by the Avvenire newspaper of the Italian bishops' conference.

Their release came days after Malian authorities freed nearly 200 jihadist prisoners, which had fuelled speculation that a prisoner exchange was imminent, reports The Guardian.

In addition to the two Italians, the extremists released a 75-year-old French aid worker, Sophie Pétronin - after almost four years - and Malian former finance minister Soumaïla Cissé.

Maccalli and Chiacchio are expected to return home to Italy today, 9 October.

The Italian foreign affairs ministry said their release was due to the "precious work" carried out by Italy's External Intelligence and Security Agency (AISE) and other state agencies, "together with the important collaboration of the Malian authorities."