Ex-Hostage Reveals Drama That Unfolded Before His Release

On Monday, the Associated Press published an interview with Jeffrey Woodke, the American missionary who was freed in March after being held captive for nearly 6 years by the Al Qaeda-linked terrorist group Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM) in West Africa.

In October 2016, JNIM fighters arrived at Woodke’s residence in Abalak in northern Niger where they shot the two guards and abducted him, NBC News reported at the time.

Woodke told the Associated Press that he knew that he was a kidnapping target, so he took precautions and remained in contact with the US State Department and the Embassy.

He described his 6-year captivity as “hell,” saying he kept track of the passing time by using a sundial during the day and watching the stars at night.

Woodke told the Associated Press that initially, he prayed for eight hours every day. But over time, as despair set in, he found himself praying less. By his final year in captivity, Woodke was asking his captors to kill him.

Both the FBI and the State Department were trying to negotiate Woodke’s release with the cooperation of the Nigerian and French governments. But Woodke’s wife Els and the private negotiator she was working with began to feel that the FBI was misleading them about the extent of the captors’ demands while hindering their attempts to raise the over $6 million ransom.

When asked to comment on Els Woodke’s claims, the FBI told the Associated Press that the bureau worked “tirelessly” to secure Woodke’s release and was “committed to continuing to support” Woodke and his family.

Woodke’s release was secured by US officials on March 20 without paying the ransom, just days after Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to Niger and offered the country millions in US aid.

Woodke told the Associated Press that it has been difficult adjusting to life in California. The 62-year-old aide worker continues to struggle with leg injuries and the healthcare costs related to his 6 years in captivity.