The wife of an American missionary abducted 20 months ago in Africa’s Sahel region has put out a new video pleading for his safe return.
In the 4’10’’ footage released on Tuesday (26 June), in French, Els Woodke reiterated her despair and desire to be in touch with her husband’s kidnappers.
Jeff Woodke, who was working for Jeunesse en Mission Entraide et Développement, a branch of the US-based Youth With a Mission, was abducted by unknown assailants late in the evening of Friday 14 October, 2016, from the town of Abalak in northern Niger.
For 20 months, there has been no news of Woodke, but on 4 June, Niger’s president, Mahamadou Issoufou, told TV channel France24 that both Woodke and a German aid worker kidnapped in April this year are alive.
It was the first proof of life since their kidnapping.
Just a day before, on 3 June, at the end of the Muslim fasting period of Ramadan, a coalition of jihadist groups operating in Sahel, Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (the ‘Group Supporting Islam and Muslims’), affiliated to Al-Qaeda, released a video showing footage of two women being held hostage in the Sahara: the French aid worker Sophie Pétronin, abducted in Mali’s northern town of Gao in December 2016, and the Colombian nun Gloria Argoti, kidnapped on 7 February 2017 from her convent in Karangasso, southern Mali.
In the video, Pétronin was allowed to listen to a telephone call from her son and to send a message back to him, while Sr. Argoti was also permitted to give a message.
“It was a humane and merciful act during Ramadan to allow these hostages to communicate with their families and friends,” said Els Woodke in her latest of three videos since her husband’s kidnapping. “But my husband Jeff has been held for a very long time and I have received no word from those who are holding him.”
She recalled that in July last year the kidnappers released a video showing six foreign hostages detained in the Sahara, but that her husband was not featured, nor mentioned, though the families were told to contact the kidnappers directly.
“So now I want to address myself to those who gave that instruction,” she said. “I want to talk to you. I am ready to negotiate the safe return of my husband. I only want Jeff to come home. If you are not able to negotiate yet, please allow Jeff to send his family a message, just as you have done with these other hostages.”
Jeff, in his 50s, had served in Niger for 29 years, providing food, water and other services to the Tamasheq, Fulani and other people groups.
In recognition of his commitment, he received the United Nations Sasakawa Award for Disaster Reduction in 2009, given to individuals or institutions that have advocated for the reduction of disaster risks in their communities, or taken active steps to prevent disasters.