Jeff Woodke, the US Christian aid worker who was released from captivity in West Africa last month, has told reporters that that his abductors treated him “brutally and with inhumanity” during the “6 years, 5 months, 5 days and [some] 12 hours” they held him.
Woodke had been living and working in the region since 1992 when he was abducted from his home in Abalak, northern Niger, in 2016.
He was taken by the militant Islamist group Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin, an al-Qaeda affiliate, he told reporters during a press conference in his home town McKinleyville, California, 11 days after his release.
During the “6 years, 5 months, 5 days and some 12 hours” that they held him “against his will” he said he repeatedly feared he would never see his family again.
Particularly in the last year he had given up, he said. “After my fifth year I lost all hope and began a hunger strike in order to secure better treatment and be able to communicate with my family in country,” he said. “This corresponded with an increase in activity to negotiate my release, or so I was informed by JNIM.
Woodke was released on the morning of 20 March together with French journalist Olivier Dubois and met by “special forces from a third party nation” in a remote desert location. From there he was taken to Niger’s capital Niamey for medical checks.
“I was treated brutally and with inhumanity during my captivity,” Woodke said. From the day he was captured, on 14 October 2016, he had been “held continuously in chains 16 hours a day”.
“I was beaten […], kept in isolation, suffered injuries and illness which were never medically treated,” he said while tapping against his left leg with his cane.
Woodke will be needing time to attend to medical issues and injuries sustained during captivity but said he wants to help get the remaining seven foreign hostages out “because they live in hell”.
Woodke said he wasn’t sure but that it was likely they too were in the hands of JNIM.
“I am looking forward to telling my whole story at the right time and in the right way,” he said. “For now I will limit the information I share and continue to operate with authorities to bring these monsters to justice,” he said.