More than a year has now passed since jihadists in Mali kidnapped Swiss missionary worker Beatrice Stöckli – for the second time. An al-Qaeda affiliate in North Africa released a third video this week to prove she is still alive.
The Sahara division of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) issued a third proof-of-life video of Stöckli on December 31, 2016, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, a non-governmental counterterrorism organisation that monitors and verifies such materials.
In the video, the Basel native who settled in Mali more than 15 years ago is shown speaking French to address her family and to thank the Swiss government for “all the efforts that have been made” – unsuccessfully so far – trying to win her freedom. Stöckli, who is in her 50s, describes herself as “healthy”, but speaks in a tired voice with her face shadowed by a black veil.
On January 7, 2016, armed men knocked at her home and took her after she opened the door. Stöckli had been living in a very simple fashion, in a one-room house with a garden, going around as a missionary and helping children in the neighbourhood.
In previous videos, she also had been shown wearing a veil, speaking barely audible French, assuring people that she is healthy but struggling with the heat of the Sahara desert.
Back in 2012, jihadist group Ansar Dine captured Stöckli for nine days and then let her go.
“I can’t talk about it, I’m really in shock,” Stöckli (also spelled as Stockly in some media reports) told the media just after her release. She called her mother from the rescue helicopter but did not make any promises about coming home, according to statements her mother made to Swiss public television, SRF, at the time.
A short time later Stöckli was back in Timbuktu, living in the same community and working with the same children.
She began her work in Africa by responding to an advertisement in 2002 placed by an Evangelical Christian pastor who led a Germany-based missionary group called Neues Leben Ghana, or “New Life Ghana”. Stöckli travelled to Mali with the group and worked with them in Timbuktu for a few years.
Later she set off on her own, due to disagreements with the group, which in 2012 stopped going on missions to Mali for security reasons.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for Stöckli’s latest kidnapping. Later, masked Islamic fighters appeared in a video to accuse Stöckli of “attempting to Christianise Muslims” and demanded the release of members imprisoned by the Malian government.
They also called for the release of Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, who is in the custody of the International Criminal Court.
The Swiss foreign ministry has created a task force to try to win Stöckli’s freedom and to keep in contact with local authorities in Mali.
When a Swiss national gets into trouble abroad, Bern typically intervenes as a last resort. Individual cases are handled by the foreign ministry’s consular protection arm.