Son of Former al-Qaida Hostage Who Disappeared Says 'Old Lady' Isn't Endangering Anyone

A French woman who was held hostage by al-Qaida for four years in Mali reportedly returned illegally to the West African country in March, sparking criticism and concern from authorities.

But the son of the woman, 76-year-old Sophie Petronin, denounced accusations that she was acting irresponsibly and endangering others by returning to the place where she was once held captive.

In an interview with French broadcaster BFM-TV, Sébastien Chadaud-Pétronin said that his mother now is living very discreetly in an apartment in Bamako, the capital of Mali. She became extremely unhappy while living back in Europe after her release and desired to return to Mali, the home of her adopted daughter and the place where she lived and worked for years before being taken into captivity in 2016, he said.

"She spent 20 years there. Part of her life is there," said Chadaud-Pétronin, who was speaking to the broadcaster from Switzerland. "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."

Anthony Fouchard, a French journalist who stayed with Petronin after her release, told French broadcaster France Info that she had been longing to return to Africa.
"Her life for the last 25 years has been devoted to Mali," he said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Sophie Petronin in France
A French woman who was held hostage by al-Qaida for four years in Mali reportedly returned illegally to the West African country in March, sparking criticism and concern from authorities. Above, French President Emmanuel Macron (R) stands next to French aid worker Sophie Petronin (C) who is welcomed by her family after suspected jihadist hostage-takers freed the 75-year-old from nearly four years of captivity in Mali at the Villacoublay military airport near Paris on October 9, 2020. Gonzalo Fuentes/AFP via Getty Images

Petronin's return to Mali has made headlines in her native France, with the government spokesman this week accusing her of "irresponsibility toward her own security and also the security of our troops" in the West African country.

Her son said she has ventured out just once in six months, to shop and under escort, and has someone with her who watches over her security.

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

"To make believe that she has gone back to her captors in northern Mali, that she is putting our soldiers' lives in danger, is not very responsible," he added.

Petronin apparently crossed a land border back into Mali without a visa in March, about five months after she was freed and flown back to France. Malian authorities say they are now looking for her and want to question her, but aren't saying why.

Chadaud-Pétronin said that he will travel to Bamako next week to check on her security arrangements and meet French Embassy officials. He also hopes to meet with Malian authorities.

"I hope the Malians will offer her a little place in their community," he said. "She just wants everyone to forget about her."

Former Hostage Returns to Mali
In an interview with French broadcaster BFM-TV, Sébastien Chadaud-Pétronin said that his mother, Sophie Petronin, is living very discreetly in an apartment in Mali's capital. Above, French President Emmanuel Macron (C-L) welcomes Petronin (C) next to French European and Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (C-R) after the 75-year-old was freed from nearly four years of captivity in Mali upon her arrival at the Villacoublay military airport near Paris on October 9, 2020. Gonzalo Fuentes/AFP via Getty Images