A video released by the al-Qaeda affiliate in North Africa purports to show that Swiss missionary Beatrice Stöckli, who has been held hostage since January, remained alive as of a month ago.
The nearly three-minute video from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) shows a Western-style woman wearing a veil, speaking barely audible French. In it, she says her name is Beatrice Stöckli and that she is healthy but is really struggling with the heat of the Sahara desert.
SITE Intelligence Group, a non-governmental counterterrorism organisation, flagged it as an authentic “proof of life” video in a release on Thursday night. The video gives the date as May 17, 2016.
The terror group AQIM and one of its affiliates have also claimed responsibility for two attacks in the Mali capital, Bamako, that left five dead in a bar in March 2015 and 20 dead in an assault last November on the Radisson Blu hotel.
Switzerland has demanded Stöckli’s unconditional release, but AQIM says it wants jihadist fighters imprisoned in Mali and Niger to be released in exchange.
In the video AQIM makes no new demands. The Swiss foreign ministry and Federal Office of Police have set up a working group to get Stöckli freed. The group kidnapped her from her home in Timbuktu on January 7.
Second time kidnapped
This is the second time that Stöckli, whose last name is sometimes referred to as Stockly in international media reports, has been abducted in Mali.
The middle-aged Basel native settled in Mali more than 15 years ago, where she has carried out her missionary work in the local community. She took care of children in neighbourhoods on the edge of the city, telling them stories and playing with them.
She had been receiving financial support for her life and work from family and friends in Basel. In 2012, the jihadist group Ansar Dine kidnapped her but then let her go following nine days in captivity.
She began her work in Africa by responding to an advertisement in 2002 from an evangelical Christian pastor who led a missionary group, New Life Ghana, based in Germany. Stöckli then travelled to Mali with that group and began working with them in Timbuktu.
Eventually, she set off on her own due to some disagreements with New Life Ghana, which in 2012 stopped going on missions to Mali for security reasons.
swissinfo.ch and agencies