Dakar - A Swiss woman who was kidnapped and briefly held by an al-Qaeda-linked group last year has returned to the northern Malian town of Timbuktu, from where she was taken, residents said on Monday.
Beatrice Stockli, the former hostage, was seen in Timbuktu over the weekend, said Diadie Hamadoun Maiga, vice president of the crisis cell created in Timbuktu to deal with the al-Qaeda occupation.
"It's true. I saw her yesterday at the market," said Maiga. "She told me that she had never wanted to leave."
Timbuktu fell to Islamic extremists on 1 April 2012, but Stockli, a Christian, refused to evacuate. She was abducted on 15 April and ended up in the hands of the al-Qaeda-linked group Ansar Dine, according to their spokesperson Sanda Ould Boumana. She was freed on 24 April after a mediation effort led by neighbouring Burkina Faso.
A helicopter came to pick her up, flying her to Ouagadaougou, the Burkina capital.
At the time, Stockli was accused by the Islamists of proselytising for Christianity and warned that she would be executed if she ever tried to return to Timbuktu.
But Northern Mali, including the city of Timbuktu, was freed from the extremists by a French-led military campaign this January. The members of Ansar Dine fled into the desert to the north. In May, officials in Mauritania confirmed that Boumana had turned himself in to agents at the Mali-Mauritania border.
With Timbuktu no longer controlled by the Islamic radicals, Stockli decided to return, say local residents.
"I saw her in person. She looked relaxed," said Alpha Sanechirfi, who heads the Malian Office of Tourism in Timbuktu, who also served on the crisis cell. "She was walking around the market as she used to do, selling trinkets."