An Australian surgeon kidnapped by jihadists in Burkina Faso nearly a year ago, and whose whereabouts remain unknown, has been declared a citizen of the West African nation, an official decree announced on Wednesday (17 Nov.).

Ken Elliot was abducted along with his wife Jocelyn in January 2016 by Al-Qaeda-linked jihadists from the northern town of Djibo, near the border with Mali and Niger.

The Christian couple, in their eighties, had run the sole medical clinic there since 1972.

Joceyln Elliot was released by her captors this February, but her husband has not been seen and it is believed he is being held outside Burkina Faso.

The kidnapping – claimed by the Islamist group Ansar Dine – prompted an outpouring of support for the Elliots. The people of Djibo pleaded for the couple’s release on Facebook, and hundreds of students with placards reading “Free Elliot” took to the streets of the town with their teachers.

Djibo residents also launched an Internet petition demanding Ken Elliot be freed.

The government decision has brought some encouragement, said Seydou Dicko, president of a group which has been campaigning for the release of Dr. Elliot.

”We have learned through media that Dr. Elliot has naturally been granted the citizenship because, for us, he was Burkinabe”, he said.

”This also allows us to think that Dr. Elliot was not forgotten. And it also enables us to raise our hopes high by asking our government to do more, knowing that a Burkina citizen is now held outside Burkina Faso”.

The couple’s abduction coincided with a jihadist assault on an upmarket hotel in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, which left at least 30 people dead, including seven missionaries.

Jocelyn Elliot has refused to leave Burkina Faso, vowing to wait for her husband’s return to continue their medical work.

Sources: The Guardian, RFI