Al-Qaeda hostage made it to France. Anger is rising over her return to Mali.

France has reacted angrily to a French aid worker’s return to Mali after she spent four years there as an al-Qaeda hostage, with Paris condemning her move as a “form of irresponsibility.”

Sophie Petronin was kidnapped at gunpoint on Christmas Eve in 2016 by an armed Islamist group and held hostage before being released in late 2020, days after the Malian government freed hundreds of militants it had detained.

Petronin recently told French media she returned to Mali in March, mere months after she was released. Last week, Malian police called for the 76-year-old to be apprehended and escorted to the capital, Bamako. They did not say why Petronin was being sought by authorities, according to the Associated Press, though she had reportedly not gotten a visa to reenter the country.

“When we have citizens who are taken hostage, it is our troops who save them, at a risk to their own lives,” French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said Wednesday during a news briefing. There were hostages in prison in other countries that soldiers died in. … We must have respect for our soldiers.”

Petronin, however, pushed back on being characterized as reckless. She told Agence France-Presse on Wednesday that Mali, where she had spent decades, was “home.” She had reportedly found it difficult to readjust to life back in Europe and being away from her adopted Malian daughter.

The aid worker was greeted by French President Emmanuel Macron on her return to the country last year, but had told reporters then that she was looking forward to returning to her work in West Africa.

In 1998, Petronin founded a charity to provide food and health services to underprivileged orphans in Gao, the largest city in northern Mali. Gao, a region in the Sahel that is semi-arid south of the Sahara Desert has been a hotbed of extremists linked to al Qaeda since years.

A civil war that broke out in 2012 had brought anti-government separatists and Islamist militants together. The group was able to take control of several cities and towns, including the historic Timbuktu.

Since then, French and Malian forces, as well as U.N. peacekeepers, have fought to recoup territories occupied by rebel militias and al-Qaeda sympathizers. However, the Taliban’s fall in Afghanistan earlier this year encouraged Islamist extremists to return to West Africa. Many are now worried about their future and the French plans to withdraw its military presence.

In an interview with French newspaper Le Monde, journalist Anthony Fouchard, who wrote a book about Petronin’s years as a hostage, said the aid worker had been residing in Switzerland. He said that Mali denied Petronin’s visa request, however Petronin was able to cross a border into Senegal and enter the country.

Senegal’s Foreign Ministry did not respond to a request for comment Thursday morning.

Petronin “now lives in the Malian capital, remains discreet, but does not hide, goes shopping,” Fouchard told Le Monde. “People regularly recognize her in the street.”

Her son, Sebastien Chadaud-Petronin, told French broadcaster BFM that she had been deeply unhappy in Europe and was not taking chances, according to the Associated Press.

“She is not in the desert,” he said. “She is not taking risks.”

“She is an old lady in the autumn of her life and she just wants to be in the place where she feels most comfortable,” he added.

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