Militant Islamists linked to al-Qaeda have freed a South African paramedic taken hostage in Libya more than six years ago, a charity has said.
Gift of the Givers said it had facilitated the “unconditional” release of Gerco van Deventer.
The charity described Van Deventer as the longest-held South African hostage.
He was seized by an unnamed group in Libya in 2017, sold to militant Islamists in Mali a year later, and released “into” Algeria, it added.
A Malian security source confirmed to AFP news agency that Van Deventer, 48, had been freed.
It quoted a humanitarian source as saying that the paramedic was freed on the border between Mali and Algeria.
Large parts of Libya have been lawless since Nato-backed forces overthrew and killed long-serving ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, while Mali is battling an Islamist insurgency and a rebellion by separatist forces in the north.
Gift of the Givers, a South Africa-based charity, said that Algeria’s security agencies had taken Van Deventer to hospital for a check-up following his release.
“We await the next step on his health and arrangements to bring him home to be reunited with wife Shereen and son Asher. It has been six agonising years of prayer, patience, and hope,” the charity said in a Facebook post.
Van Deventer was an emergency paramedic who was working for a security company when he was seized on 3 November 2017, while on his way to a power plant construction site around 1,000km (600 miles) south of Libya’s capital Tripoli.
Three Turkish engineers who were abducted with him were freed about seven months later, but he remained in captivity.
In March his family made a fresh plea for his release.
Gift of the Givers has been involved in previous efforts to free Van Deventer and other hostages held in the Sahel region.
The charity said the al-Qaeda affiliate, Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin, had asked for a ransom of $3m (£2.4m) in 2018, and the charity negotiated the amount down to $500,000.
However, Van Deventer’s family and employer could not afford the amount, and the militants finally released him “unconditionally” on Saturday, it added.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and other extremist groups in North and West Africa have long used kidnapping for ransom as a way of raising money.
The group, which has its roots in Algeria’s bitter civil war in the 1990s, operates across the Sahel region south of the Sahara Desert and within Mali and Burkina Faso.
In 2013, former colonial power France sent 5,000 troops to Mali to fight the group and its allies, and in 2020 killed AQIM leader Abdelmalek Droukdel.
But France pulled out last year following a coup in the West African state, and growing unpopularity over its military operation.
Now Russia’s notorious mercenary Wagner group has been hired by Mali’s military junta to fight the militant