“I made detention a spiritual retreat. “ With a thin white veil around her head, Sophie Pétronin does not look like these hostages tested by years of detention. With a keen eye, she claims to be fine. “I have always been respected, they took care of me, I can’t lie », she confides at the microphone of TF1-LCI. Three and a half years after her kidnapping by a group of Malian jihadists, the last French hostage in the world is finally free.
The 75-year-old Frenchwoman was greeted with honors on the tarmac at Villacoublay, south of Paris, on Friday, October 9. Hailed by the President of the Republic Emmanuel Macron, she then threw herself into the arms of her family.
→ EXPLANATION. How Sophie Pétronin’s release in Mali became possible →
“For Mali, I will pray, implore Allah’s blessings and mercy, because I am a Muslim. You say Sophie, but it’s Mariam you have in front of you », she later said. His son, questioned by BFM-TV, explains his conversion as follows: “When you are about to experience this kind of adventure, it is more in your interest to familiarize yourself with the habits and customs and try to be more in the acceptance, the understanding. “
Before her kidnapping, Sophie Pétronin was a Catholic and practiced regularly, told The cross Pastor Samuel Guindo, head of the Protestant Churches of Gao, in south-eastern Mali.
A first kidnapping attempt
The French humanitarian aid worker was kidnapped on Christmas Eve in 2016. In Gao, Sophie Pétronin was not hiding. After having escaped a first attempt to kidnap armed Islamists in 2012, the Frenchwoman knew that she could be profitable prey for the jihadists, especially as they were strengthening their hold on northern Mali. But she wanted to continue the task she had given herself, that of feeding Gao’s children well.
She settled in the Sahel because she “Clicked to help these populations by going there with a friend in 1996”, specifies his son. In 2001, she founded the Gao Aid Association (AAG), which treats children suffering from malnutrition.
Coordinator of the migrant house in Gao, Eric Kamden, worked with her. “It was the passion for her work that made her survive in the temperature and security conditions we know in Gao”, he confides to The cross. “No one spoke badly about her. It was not the White woman who was giving lessons. “
Several adopted daughters
Sophie Pétronin visited the health centers where she had organized assistance for malnourished children every day. Everyone in Gao liked “Its simplicity and its smile”, relate Éric Kamden. “She was never aggressive and yet, even at her age, she was a fighter”, adds Pastor Samuel Guindo. “She wasn’t lazy. “
She adopted a daughter there, now around fifteen, her son also emphasizes. To Gao, Eric Kamden indicates that she “Had several adoptive daughters that she hosted with her. She had adopted our culture, dressed in African style. It was really very simple ”.
The last video released by the GSIM linked to Al-Qaida, in June 2018, however, showed her very tired, her face emaciated. As a Catholic and now as a Muslim, Sophie Pétronin demonstrates an unshakeable faith and tenacity. Barely released, she says she already wants to go back to Mali to ensure the proper functioning of the children’s aid organization that she led before being abducted. “I still have to go take a look and say hello to them because I made this commitment. If you make a commitment, go to the end of your commitment, otherwise you will have lost your reason for being on this earth. “
The last French hostages
Before Sophie Pétronin, two French tourists, Patrick Picque and Laurent Lassimouillas, had been released in Burkina Faso in May 2019 thanks to the intervention of an elite French commando. The operation had cost the lives of two soldiers.
In March, three French and an Iraqi members of the NGO SOS Chrétiens d’Orient were released in Baghdad after two months of detention.
Released by Iran on March 20, researcher Roland Marchal considers himself as “An academic hostage”. His companion, the Franco-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah, sentenced for “Collusion with a view to undermining national security”, is still being held in Iran, where she has just been granted provisional release.