France honors soldiers who died during hostage rescue in Burkina Faso

May 14 (UPI) — An American woman who was taken hostage in Burkina Faso was nearly handed over to al-Qaida militants before she was rescued by U.S. commandos, a French military officer said Tuesday.

The unidentified woman was freed along with two French tourists and a South Korean citizen on Friday.

French Army chief of staff Gen. Francois Lecointre said the captors, whose allegiances have not been confirmed, were attempting to transfer the hostages to a Mali group known as Katibat Macina — a group affiliated with al-Qaida and led by Amadou Kouffa. In 2017, it merged with four other groups to form Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin, or Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims, according to Human Rights Watch.

Lecointre said rescuing the hostages would have been impossible if the captors had made the handover. The rescue was approved by French President Emmanuel Macron.

Two French commandos who died in the rescue — Cedric de Pierrepont and Alain Bertoncello — were honored Tuesday.

The French citizens Patrick Picque and Laurent Lassimouillas disappeared May 1 while on a safari near Benin. It was not known when the American and South Korean were kidnapped.

In an April 9 travel advisory, the U.S. State Department warned travelers to reconsider any planned trip to Burkina Faso because of crime and terrorism in the Sahel and East regions.

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